Leading Article: Clear out all the fraudsters and failures of Brussels

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"IT IS becoming difficult to find anyone in the Commission who has even the slightest sense of responsibility." Any reasonably-minded Eurocitizen reading this sentence and the rest of the report of the "wise men" into fraud at the European Commission might be forgiven for thinking that they had explored the depths of bureaucratic arrogance. If so, they would have underestimated the President, Jacques Santer, who shrugged off the devastating report as "unbalanced". M Santer said that: "I note with considerable satisfaction that I am whiter than white, which gives a measure of satisfaction, of course." This is the man who, let us recall, was himself named as failing to take "any meaningful interest" in his own security office, supposedly responsible for cracking down on the very fraud and mismanagement which has brought us to this pass.

M Santer's remarks would suggest that, as far as the Commission is concerned, the Euro gravy train has not been derailed but has merely made an unscheduled stop at a minor station where the passengers disembark and patiently endure some distasteful barracking from les paysans before calmly returning to their plush carriages to complete their leisurely journey.

This would now be the most attractive course of events for M Santer and his colleagues. But it is also one which would virtually guarantee that the next stages of European integration will fail. These developments affect our prosperity and concern the very sinews of sovereignty in the shape of the single currency and a common foreign and defence policy. They must not be overseen by a body with so little credibility and by a President who demonstrates such weak leadership. As Tony Blair has said, Europe needs root and branch reform, and the need for radical institutional reform is now overwhelming. In his flamboyantly disdainful attitude, M Santer has shown himself ill-suited to this task and made the best possible case for his own dismissal and the replacement of the entire Commission. Of course, not all Euro Commissioners share his world view. Sir Leon Brittan talked about "speed and ruthless determination" in putting things right. Neil Kinnock has accepted the gravity of the situation. Neither of these men is personally culpable. But all the Commissioners have to share collective political responsibility and accept that they were at the helm of an organisation exposed as dysfunctional and institutionally corrupt. They should all go.

Corruption is simply intolerable and equity demands that those politically responsible be punished. It is also necessary to demonstrate that the penalties for failure on this scale are immediate and painful rather than theoretical. Europe needs fresh leadership to face the immense challenges ahead. No less does it need a shock to its culture.

It is time to clear out the Eurotrash.

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