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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK


UK Politics

Looking forward to more Euro-trouble



Each week BBC News Online's Nyta Mann talks to a politician making the news. This week: Pauline Green, Labour MEP for London North and leader of the Socialist Group in the European parliament

Pauline Green has a beef with the media. They are always, it seems, getting at her in one way or another.


[ image: Pauline Green leading the Socialists in the European Parliament chamber]
Pauline Green leading the Socialists in the European Parliament chamber
When we meet, the MEP for London North is fuming over the front-page splash of a tabloid newspaper: "EURO CHIEF'S CAR SCANDAL".

Green, as leader of the Socialist Group of MEPs in the European Parliament, is the Euro-chief in question.

She describes the story as a "cheap jibe" over something that has been blown out of all context and proportion.

So too with the widely-reported sightings of her with Jacques Santer on the night the then-European Commission president survived a vote of censure last January following his "back us or sack us" challenge to MEPs.

After the vote, Green was seen in the company of Santer and his retinue, celebrating with champagne.

She is exasperated that the tale of her "cracking open the champagne" with the man who was accused of - and later resigned over - presiding over a grossly mismanaged Commission, has travelled so far.

"I've already put out a notice about that saying I will take legal action if it's pursued," she says.


[ image: She definitely didn't drink champagne with Jacques Santer]
She definitely didn't drink champagne with Jacques Santer
Yes, she admits, she was in the bar of the Strasbourg Hilton with Santer after the vote. For the past five years she has stayed at the hotel for the one in four weeks the European Parliament sites itself in the city.

But she wasn't part of his champagne celebration, she insists. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

" I went to the bar and got a glass of water to take some medication," - for a bad bout of 'flu - "and as my luck would have it, in walks Jacques Santer with his entourage and sat down with me," she explains.

"What they were drinking, I don't know. It may have been champagne. I certainly wasn't. I drank my water, took my medication, exchanged some words with him and went."

President Prodi no sure thing

Now that Santer and the rest of the commission have, some time later, resigned, it's the turn of former Italian premier Romano Prodi to celebrate. Last month he was nominated by the EU governments to become the new president of the European Commission.

He will have to first undergo confirmatory hearings, a debate and vote at the hands of MEPs. But having already won the backing of EU heads of government, these hurdles have been as a mere formality.

Green, however, warns that Prodi's ascendency to the top job is no sure thing.

"Be aware that we voted against Jacques Santer in 1994, and he only got through the Parliament by 23 votes," she says. "Given what's happened now, please don't take anything as read in the European Parliament, that's what I would say."


[ image: Place no bets: Romano Prodi is not guaranteed the European Commission presidency]
Place no bets: Romano Prodi is not guaranteed the European Commission presidency
No one should place any bets on Prodi, she cautions. "He's come in with a good reputation from Italy, part of the 'clean hands' brigade, part of the economic reforming group in Italy.

"So he's come in with good credentials - but he's got to be right for this job. This is not prime minister of Italy."

Retreads in for a rough ride

Similarly with the new Commission that must be appointed. Its members must also undergo confirmatory hearings.

Despite all 20 commissioners having resigned in acceptance of charges of serious mismanagement, the concept of collective responsibility is unlikely to prevent some of those untainted by individual criticism from being re-nominated.

Green promises to give any retreads, including the UK's Neil Kinnock, a hard time.

"I suspect there may be half a dozen of them re-nominated," she predicts. "They will have a very rigorous examination in the Parliament. They will have ratification, public hearings, and for those coming back, without question it will be very rigorous.

"It'll be rigorous for the new ones as well. But the ones that are there now carry some baggage, of course."

'We will push at the rules'


[ image:  ]
The Commission's mass resignation was a result of the European Parliament's muscle-flexing in recent years. The Parliament is the only democratic pillar of the EU. And in order to increase the democratic accountability of the EU, it would have to be given greater powers.

The Amsterdam Treaty, negotiated in 1997, comes into effect on May Day. It gives the Parliament some limited new powers - though they fall a long way short of handing Europe's controls over to its sole directly-elected institution.

The priority at this stage, believes Green, is for the Parliament to "demonstrate its maturity" as a precursor to getting more powers.

Extending the Parliament's power, however, is not something the EU's member governments - including Tony Blair's - that make up the European Council are too keen on. Unsurprising, perhaps, given that it would be at their expense.

In the action plan for EU reform proposed by Tony Blair last month, no mention was made of granting greater say over matters European to Green and her MEPs.

Though she prefers to depersonalise the issue, Green nevertheless confirms there is Euro-trouble ahead for Tony Blair.

"It's not me and Tony Blair, it's the European Parliament as an institution, as a union," she says. "And the Parliament will always be pushing at the rules, pushing at the limits of the treaty, because that's the nature of a democratic organisation. And so yes, we will pursue the Council."

Progress through crisis

Effectively forcing the resignation of all 20 commissioners was a defining clash between the European Commission and Parliament. Green believes that it is through crises like last month's that the Parliament's evolving role is defined, that such crises are therefore required - and that there will be more of them.

"Yes. I agree, that's it absolutely," she says. "It's a sad fact of life in the European Union [that] because it is a consensus-driven body - and it must be, nobody would have it any other way - the only way you turn the tanker in full ocean is actually by creating a crisis. And that's what happened this time."


[ image: Neil Kinnock will be given a hard time by MEPs, Pauline Green promises]
Neil Kinnock will be given a hard time by MEPs, Pauline Green promises
At a time when governments of all complexion call for less money to go to the EU, Green also believes the European Commission is seriously underfunded - at the same time as its activities are being expanded.

One of the statistical sound-bites popularised during last month's Euro-turmoil was that the Commission, charged with running the EU, does it all with fewer staff than the BBC employs.

"Yes, it's a problem," she says. "Part of the trouble this present Commission have got themselves into is exactly about this, and for that both the Parliament and the Council have to take some share of the responsibility, because we've demanded budgetary rigour."

The new Commission "must insist that they will not do a job where they're not properly resourced", while the governments "have the responsibility when we give them a new job to say 'And here are the resources'." It just "won't do" to do otherwise, she sternly adds.

Green is firmly in favour of the UK joining the European single currency, and expects to play a prominent role come the referendum on saying Yes to the euro.

Within Labour, she was one of those who tried to persuade Tony Blair to hold the referendum hard on the heels of the 1997 general election, to capitalise on the party's sky-high poll ratings.

"I was one of those who argued that perhaps it would have been good if we'd gone then," she confirms. Now she says: "We didn't - for the right reasons we didn't, I think, that we weren't ready, and, you know all the reasons."


[ image: Ken Livingstone: Could Pauline Green beat him in a Labour Party ballot?]
Ken Livingstone: Could Pauline Green beat him in a Labour Party ballot?
But she doesn't sound entirely convinced, and is known to have wanted the government to set a target date for UK euro-entry.

London mayor 'an attractive scenario'

Something she is better known for, though, is being one of those touted by Labour officials as a possible Blair-backed candidate for London mayor.

Desperate for someone, anyone, who could possibly beat popular left-wing MP Ken Livingstone in an internal party ballot, Green's name has been floated by those close to Blair.

When I ask her about it, she lists the many things already on her full plate: the Euro-elections in June, standing again as Labour's candidate to lead the Socialist Group in the new Parliament, the convoluted liaison involved in setting in place the new Commission.

You'd think that was that, then. But she suddenly moves seamlessly on to what sounds unmistakeably like a pitch for the job. "Obviously I'm a Londoner, I've been engaged in London politics and only London politics as my personal political base for 20 years. It's an attractive scenario, but I've never talked to the prime minister about it."

Where does Green think the media stories about her potential candidacy come from? "Well, there are some people in the Labour government and in the Labour Party who think I could do it quite well. Those people might be saying 'Yes, she'd be good'. Well, good!"

When pressed as to who in the government has been telling her this, Green turns coy. "No no, I'm not talking about it!"

She may not want to talk about it now, but it sounds like no one should be too surprised to see her campaigning for Green for mayor next year.



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