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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 08:46 GMT

UK Politics

EU crisis a 'disaster'

Sir Leon Brittan: "No allegations" to implicate him

EU in crisis
British EU commissioner Sir Leon Brittan has described the mass resignation of European commissioners following fraud allegations as a "disaster".

Sir Leon was among the 20 commissioners who offered their resignations following a damning report into allegations of fraud.

Downing Street has said it will be seeking the re-appointment of Sir Leon Brittan and the other British commissioner Neil Kinnock.

BBC Europe Correspondent David Shukman: "The Commission was under immense pressure"
There was no evidence to implicate the UK representatives in any wrongdoing.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is meeting German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder with the EU crisis likely to top the agenda.

Describing the chaos in Brussels, Sir Leon said: "It is a disaster and it requires speed and ruthless determination to deal with it."

[ image: Neil Kinnock: Accepts collective responsibility]
Neil Kinnock: Accepts collective responsibility
The report highlighted the problem that the commission was being asked to do things "well beyond its capacity and its resources and therefore there were short cuts and blind eyes turned", he said.

It was now important to look at programmes and stop ones which were beyond commission's resources, he said.

But the 20 commissioners had accepted a measure of responsibility, which prompted the mass resignation.

Sir Leon said: "There's been a loss of control. We have resigned.

"The important thing now is to decide how to handle it."

He stressed that business could continue as normal: "We're still in place but member states have to decide how much they want us to do.

"We, of course, are available to do as much as is needed for as long as member states want us to do it but they have to decide how to handle that situation.

"In principle we are caretakers. But if you're trying to defend the interests of British cashmere manufacturers, for example, against the American threats you need the authority to do so."

Transport Commissioner Mr Kinnock said he accepted collective responsibility.

But he said if he had been aware of fraud he would have come down on it "like a ton of bricks".

Mr Kinnock said if the commissioners had not resigned the damage to the EU would have been "more extensive and complexities much greater".

[ image:  ]
He said: "I think the union would have been in difficulties if the commission last night had decided not to resign and use the next 10 days for explanation because that would have prolonged the difficulties.

"By doing what we did last night we made the clean break. It does mean that commissioners will continue, as I will, until formalities and decisions are made."

Euro-MPs were jubilant as the news of the resignations filtered out of EC headquarters.

The vast majority of MEPs had been clamouring for heads to roll following publication of the report which came after a six-week inquiry by a team of judicial and financial experts.

Conservative Euro leader Edward McMillan-Scott supported the call for the two British commissioners to survive.

Pauline Green: "The criticism was devastating"
The leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Pauline Green, who has campaigned against alleged corruption in the Commission, said the report had been devastating and the commissioners had done the right thing.

MEPs set up the inquiry by the independent experts, including two former EU auditors, in January following testimony in the European Parliament by Paul van Buitenen, a Dutch EU auditor, who complained about the failure of the Commission to eradicate fraud.

The hard-hitting 144-page report accused commissioners of losing control over the European Commission and of refusing to take responsibility for what was happening in the body's sprawling bureaucracy.

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