Barroso's Goldman job hits post-Brexit EU as it battles for trust

Wed Sep 7, 2016 2:23pm EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU officials are livid at their former boss Jose Manuel Barroso for taking a job at Goldman Sachs that has drawn public scorn just as they are trying to win back trust in a European Union wounded by Britain's Brexit vote.

But despite a vocal campaign by EU staff and a formal demand for action from the bloc's ethics watchdog, the European Commission and Barroso's successor as president Jean-Claude Juncker, see little they can do -- beyond distancing themselves from the former Portuguese premier's move to the U.S. bank.

The row began two months ago when Barroso, a conservative who led the EU executive for a decade until 2014, was unveiled by Goldman [GSGSC.UL] as non-executive chairman of its London-based international arm with a special role in advising on the Brexit process triggered by the British referendum on June 23.

It flared again this week just as EU leaders, back from summer breaks, are preparing a major push for hearts and minds that they hope can start restoring trust in institutions assailed across the continent by eurosceptic insurgent parties.

European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, citing among other evidence of public unease a petition run by EU staff that has over 130,000 signatures, wrote to Juncker asking whether he will convene an ethics review of his predecessor's action, amend the code of conduct or issue special guidance to the Union's Brexit negotiators on how to handle any contact with their former boss.

"Mr. Barroso's move has generated concern at a very challenging time for the EU and particularly in relation to citizen trust in its institutions," she wrote.


Outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels October 29, 2014.   REUTERS/Francois Lenoir