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Angry Barroso says Goldman Sachs ‘not a drug cartel’

Published on 23/09/2016

Former European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso on Friday hit back at those who attacked him for taking a job at Goldman Sachs, saying with an ironic swipe that the US bank "is not a drug cartel."

“Why don’t I have the right to work where I want, if it’s a legal entity? It’s not a drug cartel,” Barroso told journalists on the sidelines at a conference at Estoril, Portugal.

“I don’t accept attempts to discriminate against a financial business operating in the marketplace… and I don’t accept being discriminated against myself, which is contrary to European rules.”

Since Goldman announced on July 8 that Barroso would be non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International, the former Portuguese prime minister has faced withering criticism.

Leading the charge was French President Francois Hollande, who branded Barroso’s recruitment “morally unacceptable.”

Questioned about this on Friday, Barroso said Hollande had “yielded to pressure” and his remarks “did nothing to honour his office.”

Barroso headed the executive arm of the 28-nation EU from 2004 to 2014.

He oversaw membership for several former communist states in Eastern Europe and steered the Commission’s response to the global financial crash and eurozone debt crisis.

Critics say his inside knowledge of EU affairs, especially in the light of Britain’s shock vote to break with the Union, could lead to potential conflicts of interest.

Current Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker launched an ethics probe into the appointment earlier this month.

He said Barroso would be now treated at the Commission as a simple lobbyist rather than with the pomp and protocol typically afforded to a former president.

Detractors of Goldman Sachs say the bank was heavily involved in selling complex financial products, including high-risk sub-prime mortgages — an instrument that many blame for stoking the 2008 financial crash.

Critics contend the company was also key to the complex finance mechanisms that helped Greece hide the true state of its public finances in the lead-up to the debt crisis.

Barroso was prime minister of Portugal from 2002-4.

He has a supporter in the current Portuguese premier, Antonio Costa, who on September 16 called for “clarifications” from Juncker that there would be no “discriminatory treatment” of Barroso.