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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 12:12 GMT

World: Europe

Cresson: The 'careless' commissioner

Edith Cresson: Hired her dentist as AIDS expert

Edith Cresson - who as French prime minister in the early 1990s plumbed new depths of unpopularity - is the commissioner at the centre of the EU fraud crisis.

The BBC's Justin Rowlatt looks at the track record of a "flame-haired and fiery-tempered woman"
The Commission fraud inquiry said the research commissioner "failed to act in response to known, serious and continuing irregularities over several years".

Ms Cresson was found guilty of not reporting failures in a youth training programme from which vast sums went missing.

EU in crisis
She was also criticised for showing favouritism in hiring her dentist as an AIDS expert in 1995.

The man was later judged to be unqualified and his work was deemed to be grossly deficient.

But none of the criticisms of her said she had gained personally.

'Maybe I was a little careless'

After the publication of the report, Ms Cresson protested at being singled out as the black sheep among the commissioners.

[ image: Ms Cresson failed to report irregularities to Mr Santer, inquiry said]
Ms Cresson failed to report irregularities to Mr Santer, inquiry said
"Maybe I was a little careless," she told France 2 television.

"The parliament put in place a committee of experts who reached the conclusion there was a collective responsibility for the malfunctions which are very old, which didn't even take place under this Commission," she said.

Asked about her political future, she replied "Strong convictions bring problems, difficulties that you need to know how to overcome."

Unpopular prime minister

Ms Cresson is no stranger to controversy; her uncompromising leadership style made her one of France's least popular prime minister's during her brief tenure in office, from 1991-1992.

French President Francois Mitterrand chose her for the post as he believed she could help shake the country out of its lethargy.

It is said she was a good friend to President Mitterand - it was even rumoured that she had been his mistress.

Taking up the challenge, she said: "To get the country moving it is necessary to let off some bombs. I shall commence the bombardment."

Outspoken politician

Ms Cresson, often compared with Margaret Thatcher, has become notorious for a string of controversial statements, including calling her cabinet "creeps". She once said one in four British men was homosexual.

Before taking up her post as prime minister, Ms Cresson had gained cabinet experience handling trade, European affairs and agriculture.

While agriculture minister she failed to get on with France's farmers who called her the "perfumed one" while she returned the compliment calling them, "conservatives and woman-haters".

She won a seat in the European Parliament in 1979.

Ms Cresson, who was born into a well-to-do family in the Parisian suburbs in 1934, was taught English by her British nanny.

As she grew up she turned her back on the conservative politics of the French middle classes, saying: "One of the most obvious characteristics of the bourgeoisie is the boredom it generates."

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