Fact of the Week – Code of Conduct for Commissioners

The last few weeks, former Commissioners of the Barroso Commission have been criticized for roles they have taken up after leaving office. Barroso himself, Commission president between 2004 and 2014, came under fire after he announced that he planned to join Goldman Sachs. Neelie Kroes, former Commissioner for Competition and the Digital Agenda, has been criticized for her role as director of an offshore shell corporation that had been registered in the Bahamas. The most recent case, which came to light last week is that of former Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who took a job with Spanish wind turbine exporter Gamesa the same month she left the Commission in 2010.

What are the current rules?

Former Commissioners technically need to notify the Commission only if they plan to engage in an occupation within 18 months after their term of office, so that potential conflicts of interest can be assessed. Furthermore, Article 245 of the TFEU requires Commissioners to "behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits." However, the room for interpretation concerning this article and the lack of a timescale could prove problematic, as recent cases have shown.

What will happen now?

Members of European Parliament (MEPs) have called for the code of conduct for European Commissioners to be thoroughly tightened up, in order to prevent conflicts of interest for Commission members, and to help restore the faith of European citizens in today’s political institutions. Furthermore, in an open letter to current Commission President Juncker, the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has asked for clarification of the Barroso-case. Furthermore, more than 150,000 people have signed an EU staff petition demanding that the former European commission president José Manuel Barroso lose his pension for taking a job at Goldman Sachs. In the meantime, Juncker has announced that an ethics committee will investigate whether Mr. Barroso broke EU laws by taking a new job.