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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 15:30 GMT

World: Europe

Euro chief defiant

Jacques Santer at a packed news conference in Brussels

The President of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, has criticised the damning report which provoked the dramatic resignation of all 20 members of his commission.

EU in crisis
Mr Santer, who was among those who resigned, told a news conference in Brussels he was shocked by the conclusions and tone of the report which he said was "unbalanced".

Speaking the morning after the resignations, which have plunged the European Union into the worst crisis in its 42-year history, he said: "I have no guilt whatsoever."

Jacques Santer: The image of generalised irresponsibility is false
He added that he had "full credibility" to carry on with his job.

The outgoing commission members have been told by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the EU's current chairman, to continue in a caretaker capacity until European heads of government decide on a procedure to replace them.

David Shukman: You can see the defeat etched in their faces
France has called on European leaders to decide how to tackle the situation at their summit in Berlin on 24-25 March, which was due to meet to overhaul the bloc's finances.

Correspondents say European member governments will want to appoint a new body swiftly but divisions are emerging.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said Mr Santer, should leave office "as soon as it is reasonably and practically psossible and a new president should take his place". possible.

In a statement to parliament on the crisis, Mr Blair said his replacement should be a "political heavyweight" and that the heads of government should give the new commission a clear statement setting out its mandate for reform.

[ image:  ]
The President of the European Parliament, Jose Maria Gil-Robles, says all 20 commissioners must leave their posts immediately rather than continuing on a caretaker basis.

Some other leading figures in the European Parliament have expressed the hope that popular commissioners not implicated directly in the scandal will be allowed back onto the new commission.

However, the Spanish government want the commission to serve out its term until the end of 1999 so as not to disrupt the negotiations on how to pay for an ambitious expansion into eastern Europe.

BBC Political Correspondent Jon Sopel: The resignations have opened a can of worms
The UK prime minister will meet Chancellor Schröder in London shortly with the chaos in Brussels certain to top the agenda.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said he would press for the immediate reappointment of the two British representatives, Sir Leon Brittan and Neil Kinnock, as there was no evidence they had done anything wrong.

Sir Leon Brittan: The disaster requires speed and ruthless determination to deal with.
There have also been calls by European MPs for an emergency Euro summit this weekend. There are also concerns about the effects on the fledgling single currency, the Euro, which fell sharply in value on Tuesday morning before stabilising.

First resignations in commission history

[ image:  ]
The commissioners stood down - the first resignations in the organisation's history - following the publication on Monday of a scathing report into fraud and mismanagement.

The 140-page report by independent experts looked at charges of widespread fraud, nepotism and corruption in the commission.

It accused the EU executive body of losing political control, and picked out commissioners Edith Cresson and Manuel Marin for particular blame.

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".

EU Commissioner Neil Kinnock: We accept collective responsibility
The panel, which included two former auditors, stated that commissioners had lost control over fraud and corruption in their ranks.

The commission, responsible for proposing and implementing EU legislation, only avoided being toppled in a European Parliament censure vote in January by agreeing to order the independent investigation.

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