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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 17:10 GMT

World: Europe

Anger at EU pay-offs

Commissioners will not be leaving their posts empty-handed

The ousted European commissioners are back in the spotlight, after calls from politicians that they should not receive substantial pay-offs - some of them worth up to £300,000 - when they leave office.

EU in crisis
The 20 members of the European Union's executive body resigned en masse this week following the publication of a damning report alleging fraud and mismangement among the commissioners.

Under EU rules, even those commissioners whose conduct was singled out for criticism in the 144-page independent report will receive a handsome pay package.

Outgoing President Jacques Santer could be in line for a lump sum of around £240,000 and an attractive pension. French commissioner Edith Cresson, who bore the brunt of the report's criticism, is set to gain at least £27,000 a year.

Departing commissioners are entitled to a transitional allowance payable for three years, based on a percentage of their annual basic salary.

[ image:  ]
The payment is worth between 40% and 65% of a commissioner's basic salary, depending on length of service.

Commissioners will also get a pension when they reach the age of 65 based on their final annual salary and the number of years they have worked for the commission.

But there has been anger at the news that the commissioners will receive such generous packages. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said that anyone "forced to resign in disgrace" should not be eligible to receive the pay-outs.

However, Downing Street has admitted that it can do nothing to stop the pay-outs because no-one has been convicted of criminal charges. Under EU regulations, commissioners can be stripped of their benefits only if "relieved of their duties because of serious misconduct".


[ image: Edith Cresson: Accused of favouritism by the report]
Edith Cresson: Accused of favouritism by the report
Ms Cresson was accused of favouritism and for failing to react to serious long-term irregularities in her training department.

A commission spokesman in Brussels told BBC News Online that, since she had reached the age of 65, it would be unlikely that the French commissioner would be entitled to receive any part of her £130,000 salary in her pay-off.

But she will still receive an annual pension of about 20% of her salary, the spokesman said. This would give Ms Cresson approximately £27,000 each year for the rest of her life.

Manuel Marin, the EC vice-president and commissioner for relations with the southern Mediterranean, Latin America and the Middle East, managed to escape serious condemnation, but the report did uncover mismanagement in the Mediterranean programmes.

[ image: Jacques Santer: A top earner as the commission's president]
Jacques Santer: A top earner as the commission's president
As the longest serving commissioner, having clocked up 14 years in Brussels, he is entitled to receive 60% of his annual £143,000 over a three-year period - or a nest-egg of £257,400. He would also be entitled to a pension of about £90,000 from the age of 65.

Mr Santer, who the report accused of presiding over mismanagement, will also not be leaving the commission empty-handed.

He is set to receive half of his annual £160,000 salary each year for three years - or £240,000. On top of that sum, Mr Santer will also be entitled to a pension of about £29,000.

'No gravy train'

However, the European Commission is rejecting accusations that the commissioners' pay-offs form part of any European Union "gravy train".

A spokesman in London said the rules about pay-offs were agreed by ministers. They were not a matter for negotiation.

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