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EU watchdog fears Brexit lobbying by former top official

Published 06/09/2016

Former president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso
Former president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso

Officials have raised concerns over the potential influence of a former president of the bloc on negotiations related to Britain's exit from the EU, following his appointment at Goldman Sachs.

Jose Manuel Barroso, who served two terms as European Commission president, joined Goldman Sachs in July in a move that revived complaints about EU officials taking up lucrative jobs after leaving.

Mr Barroso is understood to be advising the US bank on issues related to Brexit.

EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, who oversees transparency issues, said in a statement that "this is a significant public interest issue and must be openly and comprehensively addressed".

In a letter to the current Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker - attached to the statement, Ms O'Reilly said "public unease will be exacerbated by the fact that Mr Barroso has publicly stated that he will be advising on the UK's decision to leave the EU".

The UK narrowly voted in June to leave the EU, but discussions on how that will happen have yet to formally start.

The Commission's Brexit team is led by French politician Michel Barnier, who was commissioner for internal markets and services during Mr Barroso's second five-year term.

Ms O'Reilly wants to know whether Mr Barnier and other staff have received orders on how to "engage" with Mr Barroso.

Though Mr Barroso respected the mandatory 18-month cooling-off period before joining Goldman Sachs, his appointment has drawn widespread criticism.

The Guardian has reported that more than 75,000 people have signed an EU staff petition calling on Mr Barroso to forfeit his EU pension over the move.

Goldman Sachs is particularly toxic for some as the bank has been accused for misleading investors about the quality of its loans ahead of the 2008 financial crisis.

Goldman is also alleged to have helped the Greek government hide details about its national debt for more than a decade.

In July, Mr Juncker told French media that "the fact that the former president works for a bank does not pose a problem. But for that one, that one poses a problem for me. You must carefully choose your employer".

Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said that any meeting between Mr Barroso and officials would be noted on the EU executive's public register.

AP

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