EU ethics committee clears Barroso of wrongdoing over Goldman job

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An EU ethics committee has cleared former European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso of breaking rules by taking a job at Goldman Sachs but said he did not show the “considerate judgment” one would expect from someone of his stature.

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

The Portuguese ex-premier caused an uproar when he joined the U.S. investment bank as an adviser for Brexit, with critics saying it further diminished public confidence in the European Union in the wake of Britain’s damaging vote to leave the bloc.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker launched an unprecedented ethics investigation in September to determine whether Barroso had breached the executive Commission’s code of conduct.

“There are not sufficient grounds to establish a violation of the duty of integrity and discretion ... with regard to the acceptance by former President Barroso of the positions of non-executive chairman ... and adviser in relation to (Goldman’s) business with its clients,” the Ethical Committee said.

But in its decision, published on Monday, the panel also said Barroso “has not shown the considerate judgment one may expect from someone having held the high office he occupied for so many years”.

The opinion failed to satisfy the EU’s ethics watchdog, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who said she would weigh what steps to take, including opening an inquiry into the affair.

“Given the concern that continues to be expressed about Mr Barroso’s appointment and the existing Code of Conduct, the Ombudsman will now reflect on the next steps – including a possible inquiry - she will take in relation to this important issue,” O’Reilly said in a statement.

She said the Ethical Committee seemed to have based its inquiry solely on three documents already in the public domain, without requesting other files or interviewing relevant people.

In addition, O’Reilly said the EU panel acknowledged that reputational damage was done to both the Commission and the wider EU, yet stated that Barroso did not breach the code of conduct.

EU treaty law states that former commissioners who fail to act with integrity in the taking of appointments after leaving the EU executive may be stripped of their pension rights.

Barroso left his Commission job 20 months prior to accepting the position at Goldman Sachs - beyond the 18-month statutory limit during which the EU executive must vet former colleagues’ jobs.

Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Mark Heinrich