Brussels / AFP
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday he opposed his predecessor Jose Manuel Barroso’s decision to work for Goldman Sachs because of the firm’s role in the global financial crisis. Barroso’s appointment in July as a non-executive chairman and advisor at the US investment bank has caused a furore in the European Union, with French President Francois Hollande deeming it “morally unacceptable”.
“What did I say? I repeat: ‘No problem for him to take a job in a private bank, but not that one,” Juncker told an interviewer from YouTube in Brussels.
He said he made the remarks “because Goldman Sachs was one of these outfits which contributed, wittingly or unwittingly, to the emergence of this enormous financial and economic crisis during the years 2007, 2008 and 2009.”
Juncker also said he considered Barroso to be an “honest guy” and a “friend.” Barroso headed the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, from 2004 to 2014, overseeing membership for several former communist states in eastern Europe, the response to the global financial crash and the ensuing eurozone debt crisis.
When he was hired in July, Goldman Sachs said that Barroso’s arrival was “nothing to do with the outcome of the Brexit vote,” the shock June British decision to quit the EU.
At the time, the Commission said Barroso did not have to inform Juncker about the job because he had been through an 18-month “cooling-off” period since leaving and it was safe to assume he no longer had access to privileged information or influence.
But it added he would still be bound by EU rules of professional secrecy. In a U-turn in the last week, Juncker launched an ethics probe into the appointment and said Barroso would be now treated at the Commission as a simple lobbyist rather than with the pomp and protocol due a former president.
In a letter to Juncker dated Tuesday, Barroso accused Brussels of discrimination and deplored claims that “the mere fact of working with Goldman Sachs raises questions of integrity,” denying he had been hired to lobby for the bank.