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Wednesday, March 3, 1999 Published at 16:59 GMT

World: Europe

Crackdown on Euro-sleaze

Financial fraud allegations have dogged the European Commission

The European Commission has approved a code of conduct for staff after allegations of widespread nepotism within the European Union's powerful bureaucracy.

BBC Correspondent Jonathan Beale: The EU's bureaucracy cleans up its image
Commission President Jacques Santer has for the first time given a clear indication that he expects commissioners to resign if they are found guilty of wrongdoing.

Mr Santer promised to introduce the new rules after his team of commissioners narrowly survived a vote of censure by the European Parliament in January, amid allegations of cronyism and mismanagement.

[ image:  ]
The new staff code of conduct is a chance for the Commission to clean up its much tarnished image and is also a tacit admission that in the past things have gone badly wrong.

It will lay down the law on what the 20 commissioners and their staff can and cannot do.

Commissioners will be prevented from:

  • appointing personally favoured candidates to top commission jobs
  • accepting gifts or payments for speaking engagements
  • claiming travel expenses except for Commission-related work.

MEPs wanted more

Jonathon Beale: Measures not enough for some MEPs
The rules are likely to disappoint MEPs who had been calling for more thorough checks on the activities of commissioners.

Many decisions have been put on hold until a new commission takes office next year - notably on the rules governing how many compatriots a commissioner is allowed to appoint to his or her personal staff.

Personal responsibility

Mr Santer's admission that commissioners must take personal responsibility for their failings represents a turnaround from his earlier insistence that the Commission stand or fall together.

The idea of individual accountability will be put to the test in two weeks' time, when a team inquiring into commissioners' conduct releases its report.

Mr Santer's reluctance to allow the censure of individual commissioners brought the Commission to the brink of resignation in January.

'Patience wearing thin'

[ image:  ]
MEPs have reacted angrily to reports of problems in agreeing the code of conduct, warning their patience is wearing thin.

British MEP Angela Billingham told the BBC they wanted to see openness and transparency as the trademark of the Commission rather than cronyism.

"It has been quite disgraceful in the past. We are furious about it."

Magda Alvoot, co-president of the Green group in the parliament, said: "I think that we need a code of conduct for the whole recruitment policy in the European Commission."

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