On air
  • RFI English Live
  • Latest Bulletin
  • RFI French Live

European Union France Portugal Banking José Manuel Barroso Brexit

Issued on • Modified

Barroso Goldman Sachs job sets off storm in France, Portugal

José Manuel Barroso Reuters/Christian Hartmann

A storm of criticism has erupted in France and Portugal over former European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso's recruitment by Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank that helped set off the 2008 financial crisis. The announcement that he will advise the bank on the fallout from Brexit gives credit to claims that the EU represents high finance, a staff union in Brussels said.

"Shameless", "indecent", "obscene" were some of the reactions to this week's announcement that Barroso is to become non-executive chairman of London-based Goldman Sachs International.

Barroso headed the European Commission from 2004 to 2014, during which he had to tackle the effects of the 2008 world financial crisis, and was Portugal's prime minister from 2002 to 2004.

The bank, which was heavily involved in selling complex financial products such as subprime mortgages that contributed to the 2008 crisis, was pleased with the appointment, saying he would bring "immense insights and experience to Goldman Sachs including a deep understanding of Europe".

Criticism from left and right in France

But French and Portuguese politicians were less impressed.

A joint statement by MEPs from France's ruling Socialist Party called for EU rules to be changed to end a "revolving door syndrome that strongly resembles conflict of interest".

"Serving the people badly, serving yourself at Goldman Sachs: Barroso, an obscene representative of an old Europe that our representative will change," France's foreign Trade minister Matthias Fekl tweeted.

On the far right, National Front leader Marine Le Pen tweeted that the appointment was "not surprising for people who know that the EU does not serve people but high finance".

In a rare comment by EU staff representatives, the Union for Unity trade union questioned the ethics of Barroso's new job, given that he was Commission president during the crisis, "in which the American bank played an important role", and warned that it "gives ammunition to those who say that the European project only serves the interest of finance".

French media joined the outcry on Saturday with left-leaning Libération calling it "a godsend for Europhobes" and l'Obs magazine observing that the EU's tarnished image "really didn't need this".

"This nomination shows that the European elite of which Barroso is part knows no shame," was the reaction of Pedro Filipe Soares, of the radical Left Bloc that supports Portugal's ruling coalition.

Commission unmoved by protests

Barroso has not broken the Commission's rules, which specify that commissioners remain accountable to the body for 18 months after leaving office.

"Former commissioners obviously have the right to pursue a professional or political career," a Commission spokesperson told the AFP news agency. "It's legitimate that people with great experience and qualifications continue to play roles in the forefront of the public or private sector."

A response that further enraged Libération's Brussels correspondent, Jean Quatremer.

"Do ethics still mean anything to them?" he asked in a blog comment.