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EU Commissioners get massive ‘cool-off’ annual payments 2yrs after office – report

16 former EU Commissioners still receive sizeable annual allowances meant to prevent them from going into well-paid corporate jobs despite having left office two years ago, German media reports. All of them are now top executives in industry or at lobbying firms.

The 16 former members of the European Commission led by Jose Manuel Barroso until 2014 still get so-called “transition payments” of up to €99,996 ($110,000) per annum, according to Die Zeit newspaper which managed to obtain a list with the officials’ names from Brussels. 

‘Transition payments’ are meant to prevent outgoing top-tier EU officials from changing into corporate jobs offering generous compensations as well as switching sides immediately after leaving office. The scheme allows them “to cool off,” as it is called in Brussels, the newspaper said.

Brussels authorities had long refused to forward the list to Die Zeit and only agreed to do so when the newspaper filed a complaint to the European Court of Justice.

The list includes, among others, former Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht of Belgium, who, according Die Zeit estimates, is entitled to almost €125,000 ($139,000) a year. Connie Hedegaard of Denmark, the former EU commissioner for Climate Action, is being paid twice that amount.

Romania's Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos and member of the European Parliament Janusz Lewandowski, once Commissioners for Agriculture and Home Affairs, are also mentioned in the list.

The measure – or the amount of payments as such – did not seem to be working as most of the officials in question took high-profile executive jobs despite reimbursements from Brussels.

De Gucht is currently on the supervisory boards of steel giant ArcelorMittal and telecommunication company Proximus, while Hedegaard is a member of the supervisory board at energy company Danfoss, along with Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, who served as stand-in Commissioner for about four months in 2014, according to Politico which has also accessed the list. 

The revelation comes just days after an ethics panel has cleared the former European Commission President Barroso of violating the EU integrity code for moving to a top position at Goldman Sachs.

Barroso’s appointment as a chairman and senior adviser to the international arm at the Wall Street bank Sachs has triggered an angry reaction in Brussels, with some EU officials demanding sanctions.

“These shameful revolving doors between politics and business foster doubts on the integrity of democratic politics,” European Parliament member Sven Giegold was cited by Politico.eu as saying. “Barroso’s quick change-over damages the reputation of the European Commission,” he added.

The EU affairs correspondent Jean Quatremer wrote for the French daily Liberation that “Barroso has given Europe the finger.”

The inquiry, driven by a popular petition which accumulated 150,000 signatures, did not reach a conclusion on whether Barroso’s move had inflicted damage to the EU’s reputation.

“Goldman Sachs may be considered at the vanguard of aggressive capitalism but as long as it respects the rule of law, it is in itself not against the law to accept a position at the bank,” the panel said in a report, adding however that former commissioners had a right to work in the corporate sector.