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Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 10:17 GMT

World: Europe

MEPs reject censure motion

MEPs voted for an investigation into the commission's affairs

Members of the European Parliament have voted not to censure two members of the European Commission accused of corruption and mismanagement, but have called for an investigation into allegations of fraud.

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh: "The Commission survives but is on parole"
Socialist MEPs, who form the largest group in the Parliament, withdrew a motion for the sacking of the entire Commission. A second censure motion tabled by a small independent group of deputies was rejected by 293 to 232.

[ image:  ]
The motion passed by the MEPs calls for swift reforms to stamp out graft and cronyism in the Brussels-based bureaucracy, and a two-month investigation into the recent allegations.

Commissioners could once again face censure when the investigation is completed.

Addressing the Parliament in Strasbourg, European Commission President Jacques Santer said he was more determined than ever to combat fraud in the commission, and asked for the confidence of MEPs as he carried out this task.

Tense confrontation

David Eades: Investigation will have to be thorough
The vote comes after a tense three-day confrontation between the 626-seat European Parliament and the powerful commission.

Earlier in the week, Christian Democrat and Liberal MEPs were backing censure, either for the entire commission, or for commissioners Edith Cresson and Manuel Marin, over allegations of nepotism and mismanagment.

In the past 24 hours, many of the Christian Democrats - who constitute the second biggest bloc of MEPs - decided instead to support proposals for an investigation into the commission's affairs rather than a censure motion.

Socialists seek investigation

Pauline Green, leader of the 214-member Socialist bloc - the biggest in the parliament - said on Wednesday evening there was as yet no proof of the allegations against the commissioners, and an investigation was needed.

The Socialists have said their main concern now is for European Commission President Jacques Santer to push through the eight-point reform programme which he promised earlier this week.

'Probation' for commission

[ image:  ]
A new anti-fraud committee will be expected to report to the assembly by mid-March, just ahead of a deadline set for agreement on key EU financing reforms.

The BBC Brussels Correspondent, David Eades, says the compromise would amount to the commission being "put on probation".

The two commissioners singled out by the allegations are Development Commissioner Manuel Marin, a Spaniard, and Research Commissioner Edith Cresson of France.

Mr Marin handled humanitarian aid programmes in the early 1990s. Former French Prime Minister Cresson is under pressure over alleged irregularities in her department.

The 20-member Commission, based in Brussels, serves as the executive body for the European Union, which includes 15 countries.

[ image: Edith Cresson's department is at the centre of the allegations]
Edith Cresson's department is at the centre of the allegations
Under EU rules, parliament can only sack the entire commission, not individual members.

Mr Santer reportedly threatened on Wednesday to quit his job if Christian Democrats in the EU assembly stuck to their resolution. He has firmly defended Mrs Cresson and Mr Marin against fraud charges.

Mr Santer's threats of resignation were interpreted as a way of discouraging MEPs from supporting the censure motion, since the departure of the president would have plunged the entire European Union into an even deeper crisis.

The current crisis erupted last month when allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement in the commission led the parliament to refuse to approve the EU's 1996 accounts.

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