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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 08:46 GMT


World: Europe

EU plunges into crisis

Jacques Santer (right) will make a full statement in Brussels on Tuesday

The European Union has been plunged into deep crisis following the resignation of all 20 Commissioners after the publication of a devastating report into fraud and incompetence.

The mass resignation was announced by commission President Jacques Santer, who is among those to go, shortly before 0100 GMT in Brussels.


BBC Correspondent John Kampfner: Jacques Santer leads Europe into crisis
"We have decided this evening unanimously to resign collectively," he said.

Several hours later it was still unclear how the EU would continue to operate.

The Commission's Vice President and one of the UK's two commissioners, Sir Leon Brittan, said events leading up to the resignations were a "disaster".

He told the BBC that commissioners would remain as caretakers and they would wait on Tuesday to hear what member governments wanted them to do.

Unprecedented

Until now not a single commissioner has resigned in the organisation's 42 year history.


European Parliament Socialists Leader Pauline Green: It's a fast and appropriate response
BBC Correspondent David Shukman says the atmosphere in Brussels is one of ''hysteria and chaos''.

The resignations came after an emergency meeting of the EU executive in Brussels. That session was called after the commission was slammed in an independent report on allegations of fraud, corruption and mismanagement.


[ image:  ]
It accused the EU executive body of losing political control.

The European Parliament's largest political group, the Socialists, had earlier called on the entire commission to step down.

The crisis comes just days before EU leaders meet to overhaul the bloc's finances ahead of an ambitious expansion into eastern Europe.

Mr Santer is expected to deliver a detailed statement after discussions on Tuesday.

Our correspondent says that leading figures in the European Parliament hope that popular commissioners not implicated directly in the scandal will be allowed back onto the new commission.

'No sense of responsibility'


David Shukman reports: "It provides a damning indictment"
The 140-page report by independent experts looked at charges of widespread fraud, nepotism and corruption in the commission.

It discovered no evidence of fraud on the part of commissioners themselves.

But it found cases where "commissioners or the commission as a whole bear responsibility for instances of fraud, irregularities or mismanagement".

And it said it was becoming difficult to find anyone who had ''even the slightest sense of responsibility''.

The panel, which included two former auditors, stated that commissioners had lost control over fraud and corruption in their ranks.

But commissioners implicated in the report claimed to be unaware of abuses taking place in their departments.

The report concluded that such affirmations, if true, would "represent a serious admission of failure".

Avoided censure

The commission, responsible for proposing and implementing EU legislation, has been shaken to the core by the fraud allegations.


[ image:  ]
It only avoided being toppled in a European Parliament censure vote in January by agreeing to order the independent investigation.

One of the commissioners at the centre of the storm, former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, has been accused of cronyism and fraud because she ran vocational training programmes where money went missing.

Also heavily criticised is Spaniard Manuel Marin who was in charge of the EU's humanitarian aid programme at the time of an alleged fraud involving bogus payments made for projects in Bosnia and Rwanda.

Both Ms Cresson and Mr Marin deny any wrongdoing.

The man who first blew the whistle on the commission, Dutch auditor Paul Van Buitenen, asked for his job back on Monday night. Mr Van Buitenen was suspended at half pay for going public.



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