Senior European officials are upset with Moody's, and competitors Standard & Poor's and Fitch, firing complaints Wednesday that the major ratings agencies are improperly influencing policy-making in the ongoing debt crisis.

The officials questioned the timing of Moody's downgrade of Portuguese bonds this week, lashing out it was out of place in timing and magnitude. Moody's downgraded Portuguese bonds to "junk" status, a full four notches below where they were before. President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said Wednesday in the Financial Times that Moody's was out of line.

"I deeply regret the decision...and I regret it both in terms of its timing and its magnitude," he said. "With all due respect to that specific rating agency, our institutions know Portugal a little better."

German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble also complained about Moody's downgrade of Portugal, signaling that European officials may start speaking out on the issue in an effort to downplay any negative impacts from Moody's and the other major ratings agencies.

"We can't understand the basis of this announcement," Mr. Schauble said. "We have to break the oligopoly of the ratings agencies."

European markets were hit particularly hard by Moody's downgrade of Portugal's bonds.

A Moody's spokesman defended the agency's decision to downgrade Portugal's bond rating status to junk, dropping it four notches. They said the company provided independent, objective assessment.

"We are focused on our role of providing investors with an independent and globally consistent view of creditworthiness, based on our published criteria."