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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 14:50 GMT

World: Europe

Why they had to go

The report that shook the commission, was handed over on Monday

There has been nothing like it in the four decades of the European project.

EU in crisis
The resignation of the entire executive of the EU - all 20 European Commissioners - followed a damning report by independent investigators into fraud, nepotism and mismanagement within the commission.

The report concluded that it was difficult to find anyone with even the slightest sense of responsibility for what had happened.

No commissioner was accused of lining his or her own pockets, but they were collectively accused of having lost control of a bureaucracy that did enrich others.

Resignation inevitable

As commissioners digested the full implications of the report late into the night, they knew that all political groups in the European Parliament had already decided to dismiss them.

In the end they decided to jump before they were pushed.

A number of prominent commissioners were named in the report, which details a culture of favouritism and mishandling of taxpayers' money. It is sprinkled with words like complacency, incompetence and arrogance.

  • Jacques Santer, the President of the Commission, is criticised over allegations of fraud in the commission's security office, for which he was responsible. The report says:

    "No supervision was exercised and a state within a state was allowed to develop."

  • The president is cleared of allegations of favouritism but the committee accused him of giving evasive and misleading answers to the European Parliament last year on fraud.

  • Edith Cresson, the former French prime minister, stands accused of favouritism. She appointed a close friend, a dentist from her home town of Chatellerault, to head the EU aids research project.

  • The report also says Ms Cresson bears serious responsibility for her failure to act in response to serious irregularities in the running of the Leonardo youth training programme.

  • Joao de Deus Pinheiro, a Portugese commissioner appointed his brother-in-law as a key adviser. The reports says correct procedures were used, but that "no commissioner should appoint a close relative to work in his or her private office."

  • Manuel Marin, Spanish Vice-President of the Commission, is criticised for responding slowly to fraud within an EU aid project, funding help to poorer countries of the Mediterranean region.

  • Monika Wulf-Mathies, a German commissioner responsible for regional policy, is criticised for using inappropriate procedures to appoint an associate to her staff.

  • Jacques Delors, who presided over the commission before Mr Santer, is also cited in the report as failing to follow up allegations of fraud in the commission's security service.

How the fraud allegations surfaced

[ image:  ]
In the wake of a series of corruption scandals involving fraud and irregularities in EU finances, a commission official, Paul van Buitenen, sent information to the European Parliament detailing cases of fraud last year.

The official highlighted what he called "incompetence and unwillingness of the administration to deal efficiently with fraud and irregularities".

European Commission President Jacques Santer provoked the parliament into tabling a motion of censure after they refused to discharge the 1996 Commission budget. Mr Santer insisted the MEPs should "back us or sack us".

Mr van Buitenen - a member of the Green party himself - was suspended on half pay for four months for breaking staff rules. He is now campaigning to get his job back.

In the subsequent showdown between the European Parliament and the European Commission a compromise deal was worked out.

This involved a code of conduct, governing commissioners and their relationships with their personal staff.

An independent committee was also set up to investigate the fraud charges. It is the explosive report of this committee which has led to the resignation of the entire Commission.

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