European Union ombudsman O’Reilly is considering a fresh Barroso inquiry

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European Union ombudsman Emily O’Reilly is considering whether to open a fresh inquiry into José Manuel Barroso’s decision to take a role with Goldman Sachs after finishing his term as European Commission president.

An EU ethics committee cleared Barroso of wrongdoing earlier this week, but O’Reilly told The Irish Times that questions still remained about the move.

“To my mind, it is important to address the lack of public trust in institutions, both within member states and at an EU level, particularly given the continuing public concerns about the appointment,” she said.

The revelation that Barroso, who lead the European Commission for two terms between 2004 and 2014, took up a position as non-executive chairman and Brexit adviser with the investment bank in July prompted a public outcry.

More than 150,000 people signed a petition compiled by European Commission staff demanding that the former Portuguese prime minister surrender his pension.

Barroso’s successor Jean-Claude Juncker appointed an “ad hoc” ethics committee in September to investigate the matter, but earlier this week the committee cleared the former president of wrong-doing.

“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 committee said in its ruling.

It added that Barroso had “not shown the considerate judgment one may expect from someone having held the high office he occupied for so many years”.

‘Cooling-off period’

Barroso took up his appointment 20 months after leaving the EU’s executive arm – outside the 18-month “cooling off” period set out in EU rules. But the European Commission’s code of conduct also states that ex-commissioners must act with “integrity and discretion” during and after they have left office.

O’ Reilly said that a number of issues arose from the findings of the three-person ethics committee, including the fact that only three publicly available documents – understood to be the letter sent by O’Reilly to Jean-Claude Juncker raising concerns, Juncker’s reply to the Ombudsman and Barroso’s letter to Juncker – appear to have been consulted during the inquiry.

O Reilly, a former Irish ombudsman who was appointed as the EU’s watchdog in 2013, has pledged to tackle the alleged “revolving door” culture in EU institutions whereby senior EU officials move to appointments in the private sector.