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Wednesday, March 17, 1999 Published at 11:48 GMT

World: Europe

EU struggles to repair image

Jacques Santer: Defiant and unapologetic

European Commissioners who resigned after a damning report on mismanagement are meeting to consider their future, despite calls for some of them to go immediately.

EU in crisis
The commissioners are back at their desks in an interim capacity - until it can be decided exactly when and how their replacements should be selected.

Many of them hope to be re-appointed by their respective governments.

The BBC's James Robbins: Some commissioners may survive
President Jacques Santer is seeking to keep his job until the end of this year. He defiantly dismissed the report which found corruption and financial mismanagement throughout the institution as "unbalanced."

On Tuesday he insisted: "I'm whiter than white."

Schröder rules out Santer

European leaders are divided on his fate. Britain and Germany are demanding Mr Santer and some of his colleagues be replaced at once to show their resignations were not an empty gesture.

[ image:  ]
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder ruled out the re-appointment of Mr Santer as head of the commission.

He said he hoped a decision on the crisis could be taken at an EU summit in Berlin next week, but if that were not possible a resolution should be found "very quickly".

"I have the impression that someone like Jacques Santer is not the kind of person to stand in the way of a solution," he said.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged the swift appointment of a successor of "a political heavyweight capable of providing leadership and authority."

But Spain has suggested Mr Santer and his team continue in a caretaker capacity until their original mandate runs out in January.

Cresson attacks 'slanted report'

Jacques Santer: The image of generalised irresponsibility is false
The former commissioner Edith Cresson, who has been singled out for criticism, said she believed the critical report had been tampered with.

She told the French newspaper, Le Figaro, that the report was slanted to portray her in an unfavourable light. The problems of the European Commission went beyond personalities, she said, and were institutional.

Early decision

Reports say Europe could decide on a new president at the Berlin summit of the 15 European Union states next Wednesday.

Mr Schröder has offered to convene an informal summit shortly afterwards if there is no agreement.

The BBC's William Horsley: The German Chancellor faces a political obstacle course
He is currently touring European capitals seeking agreement on what to do with the commission and how soon to appoint a replacement.

During a visit to London on Tuesday, he and Mr Blair discussed possible successors to Mr Santer, but no details were given.

Names mentioned for the post include Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Nato Secretary General Javier Solana.

Mr Schröder said the new president must be "highly qualified, with political and economic experience" and have "administrative knowledge and high integrity".

Censure threat

The European Parliament sees the report as an indictment that must end some commissioners' careers.

[ image:  ]
And MEPs are threatening another vote of censure against the new commission if either the former French Prime Minister, Edith Cresson, or Mr Santer return - even in a caretaker role.

European Parliament President, Jose Maria Gil-Robles, says all 20 commissioners must leave their posts immediately.

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

It accused the EU executive body of losing political control, and singled out Ms Cresson and Spanish Commissioner 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".

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