Stung by the accusations that he exposed himself to a situation where a conflict of interest arose, as a result of he and his wife spending a week on the luxury yacht of Greek billionaire Spiros Latsis, commission president José Manuel Barroso has written to the president of the EU parliament, Josep Borrell, in an attempt to explain why he should not have disclosed the free hospitality he received.
In his letter, dated 22 April (Friday), he tells Borrell that his relations with Dr Latsis and his family date back twenty years, to when he was at the University of Geneva, first as a student and then as an assistant to Prof. Sidjanki. In other words, Barroso claims, "this is an old personal and academic relation". Furthermore, he was "not aware of any dealing of Mr (sic) Latsis or his family with the Commission susceptible of suggesting a suspicion of conflict of interest".
Given the details we revealed in our posting yesterday, there is plenty of good evidence that the potential for "conflict of interest" existed, whether Barroso knew it or not. Furthermore, given the nature of Mr Barrosso’s appointment – and the resources available to him – ignorance is hardly a defence. He could have – and therefore should have – found out.
However, Barroso is adamant that he did no wrong. "There is a clear difference," he writes, "between the situation of a commissioner who was previously active in a given sector, in a commissioner who in private life knows someone active in that sector. The fact that a commissioners' (sic) friends and acquaintances may be affected by commission policy does not in itself represent a conflict of interest".
Er.. yes Mr Borroso, you are right. But that is not what you are charged with. There is a fundamental difference between having "friends and acquaintances" who are active in sectors covered by commission policy, and spending a week with your wife as guests on a luxury yacht of such a friend. Having friends is one thing – accepting lavish hospitality from them is quite another.
I cannot work out whether Barroso is stupid or simply being disingenuous but, either way, it is clear that he simply doesn’t get the point.