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Monday, January 11, 1999 Published at 20:10 GMT

World: Europe

EU commissioners to discuss fraud charges

Gerhard Schröder offers President Santer a helping hand

The European Union's Commissioners are meeting on Tuesday, as parliamentarians decide whether to censure them over damaging allegations of fraud, corruption and mismanagement.

BBC Correspondent Eileen Whelan: Members of the parliament are still baying for blood
In the face of attacks on the commission's work, the President, Jacques Santer, has promised a new code of conduct to ensure officials do not show favouritism in awarding contracts.

Members are due to vote on the censure motion on Thursday.

If it is passed by the necessary two-thirds majority, all 20 European Commissioners will have to resign. But the leader of the dominant Socialist group in the parliament, Pauline Green, has urged members not to dismiss the entire commission.

UK Labour MEP Alun Donnelly: "We want some further assurances from the president"
The European Parliament's two biggest political groups - the Socialists and the Christian Democrat group - have said they will not vote to sack the entire commission.

Addressing the assembled European Parliament on Monday, Mr Santer also promised more scrutiny of the EU budget.

He was was attempting to persuade the European Parliament not to sack the executive over the allegations, which concern multi-million dollar humanitarian aid projects that never existed and financial favours for friends.

[ image: President Santer defended the Commission's credibility at the Parliament]
President Santer defended the Commission's credibility at the Parliament
During the debate, the leader of the Socialist group, Pauline Green, called on colleagues to back the commission as long as it agreed to an independent investigation into the allegations.

But Ms Green acknowledged that among her own political group, there were differences in opinion.

Correspondents say the censure vote is unlikely to achieve a two-thirds majority, but the debate is a political embarrassment for Brussels and has severely undermined its credibility.

Angus Roxburgh: Unsurprisingly, commissioners were reluctant to answer questions
The assembly's smaller Liberal Group, backed by the Greens, favours the resignation of the two commissioners at the centre of fraud allegations - former French prime minister Edith Cresson, in charge of EU research funding, and Spanish Commissioner Manuel Marin, responsible for the EU's humanitarian aid office.

Santer proposes transparency

Mr Santer began his address by urging deputies not to vote to sack his team, promising that fraud would not go unpunished.

UK Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson: "It's too late for Jaques Santer"
His eight-point plan includes codes of conduct for EU commissioners, an increase in the parliament's powers to scrutinise spending programmes, and fresh talks about the role of his proposed anti-fraud office.

Mr Santer also announced an immediate freeze on the "parachuting" of staff from commissioners' private offices, or cabinets, into senior jobs.

He said confidence was essential at a time when the EU was working on a series of reforms intended to pave the way for eastward expansion.

Chancellor intervenes

The BBC's David Eades: "Mr Schroder spoke of misunderstandings between the Parliament and the Commission"
Earlier, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder proposed the creation of a new working group to examine the fraud allegations and tighten up the system of awarding contracts.

The group would include officials from the Commission, the Parliament and the member states' own council.

Speaking before the debate in Strasbourg, Mr Schröder - the new head of the rolling six-month EU presidency - said he had not told members of his Social Democratic Party in the European Parliament how to vote on the censure motion.

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