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Monday, March 15, 1999 Published at 10:33 GMT

World: Europe

Background: The EU showdown

Sacking the Commission requires a two-thirds majority in the Parliament

By Europe analyst Veronique Kaboha

The issue at the heart of the conflict between the two most prominent EU bodies - the European Commission and the European Parliament - is the extent of fraud and mismanagement in the Commission and its perceived unwillingness to address it.

In the wake of a series of corruption scandals involving fraud and irregularities in EU finances, a Commission official sent information to the European Parliament detailing cases of fraud.

[ image: Paul van Buitenen: The whistle-blower who got suspended]
Paul van Buitenen: The whistle-blower who got suspended
The official highlighted what he called "incompetence and unwillingness of the administration to deal efficiently with fraud and irregularities".

European Commission President Jacques Santer provoked the parliament into tabling a motion of censure after they refused to discharge the 1996 Commission budget. Mr Santer insisted the MEPs should "back us or sack us".

The name of the whistle-blower, Paul van Buitenen, was released accidentally by MEPs of the Green Party when they made the information public - they had removed his name and any information about his position, but forgot to remove his signature from the material for use by the press.

Mr van Buitenen - a member of the Green party himself - was suspended on half pay for four months for breaking staff rules. He faces disciplinary action and could lose his job and his pension.

Accountancy and accountability

[ image:  ]
The parliament cannot force individual commissioners to resign, it can only sack all 21 commissioners en masse. This is a provision in the Maastricht treaty, intended to ensure that MEPs only use this power in extreme circumstances.

The issue developed from one of accountancy to one of accountability because of the response of European Commission President that even if over half of the Members of the European Parliament supported the censure motion, he would not ask any of his Commissioners to resign.

It became a showdown between the European Parliament and the European Commission.

If the Censure motion had been carried it would have threatened EU business at a key time. EU countries are supposed to agree Agenda 2000, the budget for the next seven years which has been under negotiation for several years now.

The row has also threatened to disrupt the timeframe for enlargement of the European Union to Central and Eastern Europe.

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