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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 13:45 GMT


UK Politics

Blair: Seize chance for EU reform

Tony Blair: Wants "root and branch reform" in Europe

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has demanded a new "heavyweight" president of the European Commission to replace Jacques Santer following the mass resignation of all 20 commissioners.


Tony Blair: Root and branch reform of the European Commission needed
Mr Blair also called on member states to seize the opportunity for reform presented by the current crisis.

The entire European Commission resigned, leaving the EU effectively rudderless, following a damning report into allegations of fraud.

The UK prime minister is to make a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, in which he will call on member states to seize the opportunity for reform presented by the current turmoil.

After his statement, the prime minister is due to meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Downing Street to discuss proposals for change.


[ image: Ex-Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan was also vice president of the commission]
Ex-Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan was also vice president of the commission
Speaking earlier, Mr Blair said the commission had had no option but to stand down.

"I think the decision of the European Commission is the only decision they could possibly make," he said.

"What we have got to do now is use this event, the resignation of the whole commission, to drive through root and branch reform."

He said he believed the whole of Europe now realised there was a need to bring EU institutions closer to the people.

"This is the moment we have to decide whether we are to leave Europe as it is or make the real reforms necessary for the future."

'Pro-Europe means pro-reform'

Mr Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister would spell out to the Commons that being pro-Europe meant being pro-reform.

The spokesman added that the government now wanted a "political heavyweight with proven leadership skills" to take over from the discredited Mr Santer, and an "independent fraud-buster" to be put in place.


[ image: Like Sir Leon, Ex-Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock was not criticised in the fraud report]
Like Sir Leon, Ex-Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock was not criticised in the fraud report
The spokesman compared the way the commission had been run to mismanaged "loony left" local authorities of the past, saying Monday's report showed it was more like "Lambeth council in the '80s" than modern government for the 1990s.

But he drew a distinction between commissioners doing an effective job and others, saying the government would be supporting the two UK commissioners - Sir Leon Brittan and Neil Kinnock.

'Cover-up stunt'

Tory Euro-sceptics took up the opportunity to attack the commission. Former Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit denouncing the mass resignation as "a cover-up stunt".


[ image: Edith Cresson, the French ex-commissioner, at the centre of fraud allegations]
Edith Cresson, the French ex-commissioner, at the centre of fraud allegations
Veteran Eurosceptic backbencher Bill Cash said the commission had "demonstrated a complete contempt for the people of Europe. Fraud and corruption have been allowed to continue."

Fellow-sceptic Sir Teddy Taylor said the resignation was "a PR stunt" in which commissioners were hoping to be re-appointed.

But Labour MP Giles Radice, director of the pro-Europe European Movement, said: "It is right that the commission should resign. Their action shows that the European Parliament can assert itself and deal with problems in the executive."

Former Labour Cabinet minister Tony Benn suggested Mr Blair asking him to agree that the MPs should approve the names of UK commissioners before their appointment.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "The European Parliament has come of age. The days of arrogant commissioners, answerable to no-one but themselves, have come to an end."



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