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Monday, January 11, 1999 Published at 21:15 GMT


UK Politics

Back clean-up plan or face sack, say MEPs

Pauline Green sets out MEPs' demands during the debate

The 20-strong European Commission executive has been warned to accept a four-point plan to tighten procedures against European Union fraud and mismanagement - or face the sack in a censure vote later this week.

The demand, issued at the start of a censure debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Monday, includes the right of commission staff to initiate no-confidence proceedings themselves if they suspect corruption or cover-up within the ranks.

Pauline Green, a London Labour MEP and head of the Socialist group of MEPs - who hold the balance of power in the parliament - signalled that unless there was swift agreement to the demands, the group would join the centre-right in a no confidence vote on Thursday, taking the "nuclear" option to dismiss the entire commission executive.


[ image: European Commission President Jacques Santer has been given a list of demands by MEPs]
European Commission President Jacques Santer has been given a list of demands by MEPs
Mrs Green's speech was heard in silence, interspersed with applause, at the start of one of the most politically explosive debates yet held in the European Parliament.

She set out the price the Socialists intend to exact from European Commission President Jacques Santer if his commissioners are to be saved to complete their mandate, which runs for another year.

Mrs Green demanded:

  • An independent review of fraud investigations within the commission, to be completed by the end of the year;

  • A new code of conduct in place by the end of March on the relationship between commissioners, their private staff and the EU civil service;

  • A new role for the European Parliament, working with the commission to reform management systems. Negotiations on this must start before the end of this week;

  • A new mechanism allowing the commission to bring forward votes of confidence.

The last demand is designed to avoid repeats of the current crisis, triggered by the suspension of a commission official employed in the financial control unit who decided to leak confidential documents to MEPs when he felt fraud was being covered up.


[ image: The European Parliament debated the censure motion on Monday, and votes on it on Thursday]
The European Parliament debated the censure motion on Monday, and votes on it on Thursday
The censure motion is the most serious threat the commission has faced and is seen as more than just muscle-flexing by MEPs.

Concern over chaos

But with an all-or-nothing power to sack the 20 commissioners, but no right to target individuals, many MEPs are concerned about the constitutional crisis dismissal would cause.

Crucial EU programmes would be thrown into chaos, including financial reform, expansion talks with eastern European countries and a major overhaul now under way of farm policy across the union.

Mrs Green told the parliament that MEPs have to accept that their power was to sack the entire commission and that was the situation that had to be carefully considered between Monday's debate and Thursday's vote.

Although the Socialists are fundamentally opposed to all-out censure, Mrs Green attacked what she called the "ethos of secrecy and patronage".

But she added: "If we are to demand the heads of certain individuals on the basis of public campaigns before proper investigations are completed, or sometimes even started - then perhaps we should have all resigned en masse when the media was at its most vitriolic in claiming that MEPs were abusing their allowances and expenses regime."

'Playing party politics' charge


[ image: Edward McMillan-Scott: MEPs have no option but to dump the whole commission]
Edward McMillan-Scott: MEPs have no option but to dump the whole commission
Conservative MEPs are targeting six of the commissioners as most culpable for annual EU budget losses of £6b through mismanaged or defrauded spending programmes.

But Mrs Green has accused the Tories of playing party politics, as all the targeted commissioners are centre-left or radical-left.

The fraud dispute has led to bitter wrangling between Mrs Green and Tory Euro leader Edward McMillan-Scott.

Mr McMillan-Scott said that if any government presiding over major public spending programmes had mishandled so much money, the ministers responsible would quit their jobs.

He insisted no one wanted to "dump" the whole commission, but it was the only option if a strong protest against widespread fraud was to be registered.

More wrangling to come


[ image: Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok says the commission should resign even if only a slim majority votes for censure]
Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok says the commission should resign even if only a slim majority votes for censure
The wrangling is set to continue for the next few days, with much behind-the-scenes bartering between political groups in the run-up to Thursday's censure vote.

To succeed in dismissing the commissioners the motion needs the support of two-thirds of votes cast - something never achieved in four previous but rather half-hearted censure votes.

This time the chances are far higher - but the odds remain in favour of Mr Santer's team surviving. A question mark will remain over the commission's moral authority if a majority of MEPs vote for dismissal but fall short of the required majority.

Already one prime minister of an EU member state, Holland's Wim Kok, has said the commissioners should resign if even the slimmest majority of MEPs back the censure motion.



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