Leaders in Brussels have come under international scrutiny after last week’s controversy over coronavirus vaccines. The EU faced off with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca after it said it would only be able to deliver a quarter of vaccines originally agreed. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen then argued it was “crystal clear” that the contract required AstraZeneca to deliver doses produced in the UK to the EU to make up for a shortfall in orders. The EU then threatened to override the Northern Ireland protocol in order to block vaccines reaching the UK.
Following widespread condemnation, the EU backed down – but the fiasco was a humiliating episode for Ms von der Leyen who is now being criticised by traditional allies as the bloc’s vaccine rollout continues to face delays.
Ms Von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker even took aim at the current leadership this week.
He claimed the current crop of leaders in Brussels had been wrong to float an export ban preventing vaccine makers from sending jabs abroad.
He added: “I believe it all went too slow. It hasn’t all been done with maximum transparency, even though that would be a difficult task.”
While Mr Juncker took shots at his successor, the former EU chief was less willing to accept criticism of his own record when he was European Commission President in 2016.
Brussels has often been criticised for serving business over people, an accusation that gained momentum when former Commission President José Manuel Barroso became a Brexit adviser at Goldman Sachs in 2016.
This led to widespread criticism of the bloc, something Mr Juncker was asked about in a 2016 interview with France 24.
He was asked: “A negative image we’ve seen around the Commission in recent days is Jose Manuel Barroso taking the position at Goldman Sachs.
“Is it time we make a more strict division between politics and business, and this revolving door that’s seen?”
Mr Schulz then answered the question, branding Barroso’s move to Goldman Sachs “unacceptable”.
He said: “Michel Barnier is a man who served as a Commissioner, to place him under suspicion because he served under Mr Barroso is an exaggeration.
“The case of Mr Barroso is unacceptable. The President of the previous Commission, two years after leaving office, is now an adviser of Goldman Sachs on Brexit questions.
“I urge the European Commission President to think about improvements in the code of conduct.”
The European Commission agreed to an unprecedented ethics inquiry into the move.
The independent panel concluded there were “not sufficient grounds to establish a violation of the duty of integrity and discretion” and accepted Barroso’s assurances that he would not be lobbying on behalf of the bank’s clients.