Jean-Claude Juncker has staked the revitalization of the European Union, dented by Brexit and more distant from the hearts of its citizens, on his state of the union speech, delivered before the plenary session of the European Parliament today.
The topics at the center of the President of the Commission’s efforts include the East-West and North-South divides, the issues of refugees and austerity, and the crisis that has engulfed the concept of the European Union itself.
But one symbol of this crisis, which is above all a moral crisis, is contaminating Juncker’s reboot program: the shameful case of his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso, who held the post for 10 years. Borroso confirmed in July that he had signed a consulting agreement with Goldman Sachs and will become non-executive chairman. Barroso will work with the bank, which helped to mask Greece’s finances to enable the country to join the Eurozone, to extricate itself from the difficulties created by the Brexit.
Former President Barroso has thus become a Brussels “lobbyist,” a member of a very large group of characters who roam the corridors of the institutions’ buildings trying to obtain special benefits for their employers. (At least now they now have the obligation to enroll on a special list.)
In July, the Commission had responded softly, stating that Barroso respected the rules. In fact, he would wait at least 18 months after the end of his tenure before embracing his new career at Goldman Sachs. But the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, sent a fiery letter to Juncker on Sept. 6. She has asked the Commission to “clarify its position,” peremptorily by Oct. 14, on “the appointment of former President Barroso,” stressing that this appointment “has raised concerns in a very difficult time for the European Union, in particular for the trust citizens have in the institutions.”
A petition to tighten the ethical rules has already collected thousands of signatures. Juncker, with his back to the wall (and an embarrassing personal resume — he was Prime Minister and Head of Finance of Luxembourg, a tax haven for multinationals thanks to legal arrangements on tax cuts) answered on Sept. 9, explaining that he had asked Barroso for “clarifications” about his employment contract.
Juncker also said he will address the E.U. ethics committee to submit this case to compliance with Article 245 of the Treaty, which requires commissioners to agree that “both during and after their term of office, they will respect the obligations arising therefrom and in particular their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits.”
Barroso, by joining Goldman Sachs, becomes the worst symbol of the entanglement of E.U. institutions and the world of finance, the very factor behind the disaffection of citizens.
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