José Manuel Barroso

Former employer
European Commission
Former function
President (for 10 years)
New employer
Various including Goldman Sachs, European Business Summit + Bilderberg Conferences
Policy area
Date of Revolving Door
Institutional reaction

On 5 November 2014, the European Commission decided that Barroso’s “activities at the World Economic Forum, the Catholic University of Leuven and the University of Geneva” were compatible with EU rules and that the arrangements that Barroso intended to make with the Speakers Bureau in London and Washington were also compatible, according to the “view of the opinion of 27 October 2014 of the ad hoc Ethical Committee”.

On 5 December 2014, the Commission further decided that it would take “note of the honorary and non-remunerated functions which you intend to accept as Honorary Chairman of the Honorary Committee of the European Business Summit, as Member of the Honorary Council of the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe, as Honorary Professor at Macao Polytechnic Institute and as Co-President d'honneur of the Centre Européen pour la Culture. Furthermore, the Commission authorised your non-remunerated envisaged activities as Member of the International Council of the Opera of Madrid and as Member of the Advisory Board of Women in Parliament.”

On 16 December 2014, the Commission authorised the plans of Barroso to become "a member of the Institute of Public Policy in Belgrade, the Board of Trustees of Europaeum, the Steering Group of the Bilderberg Conferences and the Board of Advisors of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (Washington), [as well as] president of the UEFA Foundation for children". Read more here.

On 15 April 2015, the Commission authorised Barroso's request to become a visiting professor of public policy at the University of California, and president of the Fondation d'intérêt public Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels.

On 8 July 2016, Goldman Sachs announced that it had appointed Barroso as as non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International (GSI) and as an advisor to Goldman Sachs. As this appointment was after the end of the 18 month notification period set out in the Commissioners' Code of Conduct, no Commission authorisation is required. Politico has reported that

"Sources in the Commission said Barroso’s current situation is not a breach of the code, but more a question of personal judgment." 

Other info

For the ten years to October 2014, Barroso was arguably the single most powerful individual within the EU institutions. Earlier in 2014, CEO published a review of the Barroso II Commission and found that:

"an increase in the competence of the Commission tends to be directly proportional with corporate capture of EU decision making... From the very beginning the Barroso II Commission has followed a corporate agenda, and its close links to the biggest corporations and banks in the European Union is a key trait of the current European project."

World Economic Forum

Barroso has authored two articles on the World Economic Forum website, one before leaving and one after leaving the Commission. As part of his post-mandate activities, Barroso chaired a forum on "The future of regional organisations" in Dubai on 9-11 November 2014. Barroso was also active within WEF meetings whilst Commission president. CEO is critical of the WEF and the cosy forum that it provides for senior politicians and top business leaders to hob nob. WEF’s membership list includes many major multinational corporations.

Speakers' bureaux

Barroso’s profile on the London Speaker Bureau website lists that he will give speeches to clients on economics, Europe, globalisation, and politics. His Washington Speakers Bureau profile says that he:

"puts the current geopolitical environment into context, providing audiences with an understanding of the geopolitical, economic and cultural pressures that must be faced to continue strengthening Europe’s global influence, create stability for the world’s citizens, and to promote a growth environment for multinational business".

It is not known how much Barroso will charge for his speaking services but it is likely to run into thousands of euros. Barroso applied for permission to undertake these activities whilst still Commission president (on 9 October 2014), although he received authorisation before the activities formally started. CEO does not think it is good practice for commissioners to negotiate new work, paid or unpaid, whilst still working for the EU Commission.

European Business Summit

Barroso will also act (unpaid) as Honorary Chairman of the Honorary Committee of the European Business Summit. Many consider that the European Business Summit is a pro-corporate lobby platform which allows big business access to the most senior ranks of EU decision-makers, including many EU commissioners, access which far outweighs that which is offered to civil society and public interest groups.

Bilderberg Conferences

Barroso will also join the steering group of the Bilderberg Conferences. Every year, 100+ political leaders and others from industry, finance, academia and the media are invited to take part in the Bilderberg conference, mostly from the EU and US. This is a highly secretive event and only those who attend know what is discussed as there is "no detailed agenda, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued." The funding arrangements for the conference are also extremely opaque but the steering committee pays for the secretariat. Bilderberg's list of steering group members reads like a Who's Who of the leaders of major global corporations including Goldman Sachs, AXA, Evercore, Airbus, Microsoft and many others. Barroso's name is not yet listed.

Last year The Guardian profiled the conference saying "Bilderberg is packed to the gills with senior members of powerful lobby groups" and "This is big business. And big politics. And big lobbying." It further quoted UK MP Michael Meacher calling Bilderberg "the cabal of the rich and powerful" who are working "to consolidate and extend the grip of the markets", doing so "beyond the reach of the media or the public".

Yet, the Commission's review of Bilderberg did not question Barroso's move to join the steering group. Neither the ad hoc ethical committee nor the Commission itself had any concerns about this role, calling it "assistance to [a] political think tank". Barroso's role is unremunerated.

The Commission's rules

The current code of conduct for commissioners says that when they leave office they must abide by an 18 month notification period, during which time they must seek Commission authorisation for any new professional activities. The code further stipulates that the Commission should seek the view of its ad hoc ethical committee if the new professional activity is related to the commissioner's former portfolio. All commissioners are banned for 18 months from lobbying “members of the Commission and their staff for his/her business, client, or employer on matters for which they have been responsible”. The lobby ban is waived when former commissioners take up public office. In CEO's view, there are several loopholes and problems with these rules. The notification and lobby ban periods are far too short; lobbying is not defined; and the targets and content of proscribed lobbying are too narrowly-drawn.

As an ex-commissioner, Barroso is entitled to a very generous transitional allowance after leaving the Commission of between 40 and 65 per cent of final basic salary for the three years after he has left office. In addition, the transitional allowance scheme provides for commissioners to earn up to a further €9000 (approximately) a month from other sources without their pay-out being affected. In CEO’s view, the transitional allowance, the purpose of which was to enable ex-commissioners to not have to seek out immediate new employment, and thus avoid the risk of possible conflicts of interests, clearly needs to be reformed.

CEO tried to contact Mr Barroso (via twitter, via the European Business Summit and via the London Speakers' Bureau) for comment. No response has been received.

Update 28 October 2015: You can read our new report The revolving doors spin again, Barroso II commissioners join the corporate sector on our website. The report includes this case and many others, analyses all the revolving door moves of the Barroso II Commission and includes a spreadsheet which collates all known information about the 100 plus new roles of the former commissioners.

Update 19 July 2016: When Goldman Sachs announced that it had recruited Barroso as non-executive chairman of its international arm and also as an advisor, condemnation came swiftly. According to The Guardian, the French European affairs minister, Harlem Désir, said the “scandalous” move raised questions about the EU’s conflict of interest rules and said they needed to be tightened:

"It’s a mistake on the part of Mr Barroso and the worst disservice that a former commission president could do to the European project at a moment in history when it needs to be supported and strengthened ... The European commission president should be above the pressures of private interest. The restriction on being hired by a private company should be extended".

Politico reports that the French Socialist delegation to the European Parliament called for sanctions on Barroso by cutting his pension from the Commission when he reaches 65 years of age.

Meanwhile the European Ombudsman said:

"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 interests can be assessed. But technical adherence to rules drawn up and implemented by the Commission itself may or may not fully conform to Treaty Article 245 which deals with the need for Commissioners to behave with integrity, including after leaving office. The Article makes no reference to a timescale in this regard. Any suggestion that the spirit of the law is being ignored risks undermining public trust in the EU. It also undermines the positive steps the Commission has taken so far on ethical issues and does a great disservice to every conscientious and hard working EU official. The ‘right to work’ has to be balanced with the public’s right to an ethical administration and particularly when it comes to those holding, or having held, very senior positions. The EU treaty states that former Commissioners should behave with integrity and discretion when it comes to certain appointments or benefits. Just as citizens expect the highest standards when it comes to the conduct of public officials, they need clarity on what precisely this means in practice. I have recently called on the Commission to revise the Code of Conduct to so that it reflects the Treaty rules on how former Commissioners should behave. I have also said there should be sanctions for breaches of the Code."

Barroso himself is reported to have said, in the context of joining the US bank so soon after the UK's referendum vote for a Brexit:

"Of course I know well the EU, I also know relatively well the U.K. environment ... if my advice can be helpful in this circumstance I’m ready to contribute, of course."

Goldman Sachs is a major lobby player in Brussels. It declares spending between €1,000,000 and €1,249,999 on EU lobbying in 2015 and has had at least 22 high level meetings with the Commission since December 2014. Its Commission access is already impressive and it can boast of meetings with at least seven commissioners: Hill, Dombrovskis, Katainen, Oettinger, Moscovici, Cañete and Malmström. 

Comment from CEO

"The Goldman-Sachs appointment of former EU Commission President Barroso is scandalous but not surprising. The revolving doors is just one symptom of the perverse symbiosis that exists between big business and the public authorities that should be working for the public interest. Since the end of his second term in 2014, nine former commissioners have already gone through the revolving door into positions linked to big business. Barroso himself had already taken on new roles at the corporate lobby-fests of the European Business Summit and Bilderberg Conferences. He now tops off the record by joining one of the world's biggest financial players. Goldman-Sachs had a central role in causing the 2008 financial crisis, and has since spent hundreds of thousands of Euros lobbying against EU financial regulation. So far, the European Commission's response to this case has been pathetic, defending Barroso's move to big finance as legitimate according to existing rules. But major loopholes exist in both the rules and the way in which they are implemented. CEO believes there should be a mandatory cooling-off period of at least 5 years for former Commission Presidents regarding direct and indirect corporate lobbying activities."