EU Proposes Tougher Ethics Rules Amid Probes of Barroso, Kroes

  • European Commission proposes mandatory register of lobbyists
  • Action in ethics cases to come ‘if and when appropriate’

The European Union proposed tougher transparency rules for the bloc’s institutions as ongoing ethics probes increase scrutiny on the behavior of EU officials.

The European Commission, the EU executive arm in Brussels, on Wednesday proposed a mandatory transparency register covering all EU institutions that will require individuals seeking to lobby officials to sign up in advance.

Jose Barroso

Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

“We must be more open in everything we do,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said. “We propose a simple rule: no meeting with decision-makers without prior registration.” Timmermans said the public will be able to see “who is lobbying, who they represent and how much they spend.”

The commission this month opened an ethics probe into Jose Barroso, its former president, who was hired by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. less than two years after his EU term ended. Former Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes is the subject of a separate investigation into her directorship at a company in the Bahamas while she was a commissioner.

Jean-Claude Juncker, who succeeded Barroso as commission president, “is looking into the Barroso and Kroes cases and we are being as transparent as possible,” Timmermans told reporters in Brussels. “The commission will first establish the facts and then act if and when appropriate.”

Goldman Sachs

The commission on Sept. 6 started an ethics investigation into Barroso’s recruitment by Goldman Sachs as an adviser after European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly questioned whether it was appropriate. Barroso, who led the commission for 10 years until 2014, is advising Goldman Sachs on Brexit and other global issues in his role as non-executive chairman of the firm’s international unit.

In the Kroes case, leaked documents published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed that she was a director at Bahamanian company Mint Holdings Ltd. from 2000-2009. Kroes, who was EU competition chief from 2004-2009 and digital-agenda commissioner from 2009-2014, failed to declare the directorship as required under ethics rules. 

Neelie Kroes

Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

The two ethics cases are “very regrettable for different reasons,” EU Economic and Monetary Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said. 

“Barroso may not have broken rules, but to join a bank involved in the falsification of Greek accounts is not appropriate for a former EU commission president,” Moscovici said in an interview with L’Opinion newspaper published on Wednesday. “Regarding Mrs. Kroes, having been competition commissioner and the director of an offshore company in the Bahamas deserves no leniency whatsoever.”

Kroes responded on Monday to a request for clarifications over the directorship. “We will now analyze the reply by Mrs. Kroes and will determine the next steps,” commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Tuesday without disclosing the contents of her letter.

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