Leading Article: Mr Kinnock is the man to clean up Brussels

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The Independent Culture
YESTERDAY MARKED the end of the week-long interrogation by Euro- MPs of the proposed new European Commissioners, the ones who will replace those led by Jacques Santer, who resigned in shame and disarray at the beginning of this year.

The ratification sessions have not been ideal. The questioning has sometimes been chaotic. The all-or-nothing system makes it impossible to reject individual Commissioners, so that the approval system is more top-heavy than it should be.

Most important of all, however, the European Commission now has a chance to be reborn. The old-style Commission was marked by arrogance, as though it were a one-party regime whose wisdoms could never be questioned. It is this arrogance, not just the endemic corruption, that is now being tackled.

One would-be Commissioner, the former Spanish agriculture minister Loyola de Palacio, gave every indication that she did not believe that the world had changed. She infuriated her parliamentary questioners with her haughtiness, so that only the all-or-none ruling prevented her from being struck off the list.

The former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, by contrast, took the problems of corruption and incompetence - the "preventable tragedy" of the collapse of Mr Santer's Commission - as seriously as his questioners did. His insistence that it would be necessary to shake up the "management and mentality" of the Brussels civil service is welcome.

Mr Kinnock was the last of the 19 would-be Commissioners to be grilled - and gave a characteristically gutsy performance. As vice-president with responsibility for over- seeing the reform process, he will play a key role in Romano Prodi's new Commission. He is well placed to do so.

Reform of the Commission may seem an impossible task. But Mr Kinnock is used to fighting impossible battles. His successful war against the powerful Militant tendency, a party within a party, in the Eighties showed that he is not frightened of difficult crusades. In many respects, Mr Kinnock's new portfolio is a poisoned chalice. The reforms will be easy to criticise. But if he can defeat the militant complacency of Brussels, all Europe will be in his debt.