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Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 23:06 GMT

World: Europe

EU bosses survive historic challenge

Jacques Santer: "Now we can go further in a positive way"

The European Commission - the executive body of the European Union - has survived an unprecedented challenge in the European Parliament over allegations of fraud and mismanagement.

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh: "Parliament pulled back from the brink"
Members of the European Parliament first voted against censuring two Commissioners at the centre of the allegations, France's Edith Cresson and Spain's Manuel Marin.

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MEPs later rejected a motion to sack the entire 20-member Commission. Instead, they adopted a compromise, calling for an independent committee to investigate charges of fraud, mismanagement and cronyism in the Commission.

Commission President Jacques Santer said he was "relieved and satisfied" at the decision.

Mr Santer, who had threatened to resign if any vote went against his Commissioners, said the decision was "a positive vote" for the Commission and it was now time get on with the work proposed under the German presidency of the European Union.

Jacques Santer: Vote sends a clear message
"We have a lot to do and now we can go further in a positive way," he told the BBC.

Mr Santer said, however, that the parliament's decision to launch an inquiry into the commission's affairs had sent a "clear and firm" message to his administration.

Code of conduct

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The deal will also see a code of conduct put into place, governing Commissioners and their relationships with their personal staff.

Mr Santer himself proposed the inquiry earlier this week as a way out of the controversy which beset the commission

The deal became a realistic possibility after many Christian Democrat deputies, who had originally insisted on a censure motion, agreed to vote for the inquiry rather than risk the crisis which would have followed from Mr Santer's resignation.

'Kick up the backside'

Pauline Green, leader of the majority Socialist bloc in parliament which had backed the idea of an inquiry from the start, said the investigation would give the commission "a good kick up the backside."

"The Parliament this day exercised its right and role to hold the Commission into account," Ms Green told a news conference.

But British Conservative MEP Edward MacMillan-Scott described the deal as "a massive climbdown by the Socialists in the face of overwhelming evidence of nepotism, corruption, mismanagement and fraud in the European Commission."

Warning of new censure

The President of the European Parliament, Jose Maria Gil-Robles, said the Commission must meet the 15 March deadline for the completion of the first stage of the inquiry, or face a fresh censure vote.

The vote came after a tense three-day confrontation between the 626-seat European Parliament and the powerful Commission.

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.

Of the two commissioners singled out by the allegations, Mr Marin is a Development Commissioner, and former French Prime Minister Cresson, a research Commissioner.

Mrs Cresson, under pressure over alleged irregularities in her department, said on Thursday she hoped that "the false allegations and calumnies made against me over recent months" would now be cleared up.

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