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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 22:42 GMT 23:42 UK

World: Europe

EU commissioners use Net to pledge reform

The parliament has the power to reject the whole executive

The European Union's incoming executive has pledged openness and an end to nepotism and illicit gains as it prepares to face public hearings at the end of the month.

The BBC's Sophia Connelly: "Parliament will get three hours to grill the commissioners"
All 19 commissioners-designate were replying to parliamentary questions, promising to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors who resigned in March amid allegations of cronyism and mismanagement.

"The new Commission must convey and assure a strong sense of responsibility through openness, transparency and accountability at all levels," said Frits Bolkestein, the Dutchman in line to become the EU's new tax commissioner.

EU in crisis
The written interrogations, available on the EU's Internet site, are a prelude to hearings to start in the European Parliament on 30 August.

MEPs will then have the chance to grill the commissioners face to face.

Commission President Romano Prodi has already received parliament's approval, but the rest of his team face the possibility of being rejected if deemed unsuitable.

Incoming Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy is widely expected to face the toughest questioning.

[ image: Mr Lamy supports market liberalisation]
Mr Lamy supports market liberalisation
In his 44-page reply, he strongly defends his performance as chief aide to former Commission President Jacques Delors between 1985 and 1994, and his later contacts with the EU while working at Credit Lyonnais.

The Delors period came in for heavy criticism when an independent report into fraud and cronyism led to the departure of Jacques Santer and his team in March.

Mr Lamy said serious irregularities had come to light only in 1997 - three years after he left the Commission.

But he admitted taking part in 1998 meetings between Credit Lyonnais and French and EU officials which led to the bank's rescue, the biggest bailout in European corporate history.

Neil Kinnock, prospective commissioner for reform and one of only four survivors from the old administration, said he wanted a Commission that was independent and offered the "highest standards and quality".

[ image: The former UK Labour leader will spearhead reforms]
The former UK Labour leader will spearhead reforms
"My priorities are to ensure that the highest standards of propriety are complied with [and] that the Commission is transparent, efficient, effective and accountable," he said.

"Favouritism and nepotism of any kind must be stamped out. I personally will give this matter the utmost attention," added Guenter Verheugen, the German named to oversee the EU's expansion into Eastern Europe.

The parliament will vote whether to approve the new Commission on 15 September.

It can only vote on the executive as a whole, and cannot reject independent commissioners.

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