Leading Article: Cracking down on Brussels sleaze is only a beginning

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The Independent Culture
THE REFORMS in the Brussels bureaucracy announced by the EU Commissioner Neil Kinnock yesterday are long overdue, but no less welcome for that. The sleaze and cronyism scandal that brought down the former Commission, headed by Jacques Santer, was an inevitable consequence of the insulated, jobs-for-the-boys culture of the EU's head office, in which important posts were all too often filled on the basis of a candidate's nationality rather than his ability. By reducing the number of Commission departments, rotating senior officials and scrapping the unofficial quota system for top jobs, Mr Kinnock has done much to ensure that there will be no repeat of a debacle that played into the hands of anti-Europeans everywhere.

The changes also mark a further significant victory for Romano Prodi, Mr Santer's successor, in his campaign to wrest back influence from the national governments.

Almost from its outset in the Fifties, the European project has been the story of a struggle between the Commission and its member states. The power of the former reached an apogee under Jacques Delors, only to plunge to its nadir under the incompetent and unlamented Mr Santer.

Mr Prodi has already secured the right to reject candidates for commissioner whom he deems not up to the job, and to demand that individual commissioners resign. Now a blow has been struck to banish the influence of national governments at the back door, whereby directorates became informal national fiefdoms. Until yesterday, for instance, a Frenchman had held the top agriculture post in Brussels for 40 years. But no longer. Dare we hope this might even be the key to reform of the CAP?

Equally, however, we must not blame the Commission for all of Europe's shortcomings, nor assume these will disappear as a result of the Kinnock measures. The Commission is a civil service, not a government. It may propose and execute policy, but ultimate decision-making power in the EU resides with the Council of Ministers - with Tony Blair, Robin Cook, Gordon Brown and their European opposite numbers, who defend the interests not of some sinister supranational government, but of their own national capitals. Unarguably, the EU's workings must be made more accountable to ordinary citizens.

For the moment, however, Europe is in no-man's-land, more than a geographical agglomeration of nation states, but far less than a real federation. Until that dilemma is resolved, yesterday's changes, however valuable, can be only a beginning.