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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 20:22 GMT


World: Europe

European leaders welcome resignations

Chancellor Schröder met the Dutch prime minister in The Hague

Several European leaders welcomed the mass resignation of the European Commission, though there is concern that it may impede current negotiations about EU financing.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has said it is unlikely the European Union leaders will be able to agree on a replacement line-up for the European Commission at next week's Berlin summit.

EU in crisis
"Of course that will play a part in the discussions in Berlin. But I doubt we will have got far enough to talk about individuals," Mr Schröder said in Brussels.

Earlier Mr Schröder - whose country currently hold the EU's rotating six-month presidency - tried to calm the situation by insisting that Europe was not in crisis.

"We have a very competent parliament, a council and presidency," he said in the Hague on his whistle-stop tour of European capitals in the run-up to the Berlin summit.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the resignations should be used as an opportunity to drive through wholesale reforms bringing EU institutions closer to the people.

He added that the next commission president "has got to be a real heavyweight, with proven leadership qualities."

Spanish Government has called on the commission to stay on in a caretaker capacity following its mass resignation until its term expires in January 2000.

Divisions

Spain's position puts it at odds with Germany, which wants the commission to play a caretaker role only until after the June elections to the European Parliament.

Spain is worried that the resignation has left an "institutional vacuum" in the midst of critical negotiations on EU financing.

.

Also the Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema said he was "deeply concerned" by the resignations which he said came at an important moment for the future of European co-operation.

The French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said the European Commission had been right to resign.

"This decision was in line with the situation which had developed," he told the National Assembly.

And he called for changes within the European Union: "This crisis must, in our view, at least be a starting point for obtaining more transparency and democracy in the workings of Europe," he said.

For his part, the Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok sought to put a positive spin on the mass resignation of commissioners.

"It would be a disaster for Europe if they had stayed on after such a critical report," Mr Kok said.

"It is good that they have taken this step. We can now learn lessons and begin with a clean slate."

Sweden predicted on Tuesday that the resignation would push the EU into a new era of openness and transparency

"I think that Jaques Santer has made the right decision, a healthy decision," Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson said, expressing a "certain relief" over the decision in spite of the crisis it creates within the EU.

'New epoch'

"I am convinced that we will come out of this process strengthened, and that this is the start of a new epoch in the EU's history."

Mr Persson said the government would not seek the reappointment of commissioner Anita Gradin.

Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, whose country takes the chairmanship of the European Union in July, welcomed the resignation of the EU commission and emphasised the importance of overhauling the way the bloc is managed.

European Affairs Minister Ole Norrback said it would not be possible to name a new Finnish commissioner-to-be before general elections next Sunday.

In Denmark, foreign minister Niels Helveg Petersen said "The commission has a clear responsibility for some of the irregularities that have taken place. The commission had no other choice but to resign."





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