Leading Article: Mr Prodi must save Europe from itself

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The Independent Culture
TODAY, Euro-MEPs will vote on whether to confirm Romano Prodi as President of the European Commission. In return for what is expected to be their overwhelming support for his appointment, MEPs have made it clear that Mr Prodi's new commissioners will face a gruelling series of inquisitions in September to assess their suitability. Mr Prodi now knows that he must appoint people who will be able to persuade the European Parliament both of their competence and their integrity if he is to retain its trust.

Is this then the beginning of the rejuvenation of the European Commission? Given the scandal surrounding the resignation of Jacques Santer, the former Commission President, and his 19 colleagues amid charges of corruption and mismanagement, it would be pleasant to think so.

When Mr Prodi becomes President of the Commission he will know that it is for one overriding reason: to clean up the mess so that the prospects of further European co-operation become more than just a theoretical possibility. Tony Blair has been among Mr Prodi's firmest backers because the Labour Party cannot afford more scandals emerging from Brussels if its project for the realignment of its position in Europe is to become practicable. The campaign for sterling's entry to the euro begins today.

What has emerged from the Commission's debacle is that bureaucrats felt that they were untouchable by the member states, let alone the MEPs. Mr Prodi will have to start by opening windows and doors and letting in the light of reality. At the same time there must be an attempt to solve the problem of a confusion of powers between the member states, the Parliament and the Commission.

For example, the European working time directive sets a maximum of 48 hours on the working week, but it exempts young doctors, among others. The confusion this causes highlights the problem of who rules Europe. The Commission should allow member states to set maximum hours on exempted issues in line with the needs of national policy. Institutional reform will come with time, but we need to clean out the corrupt bureaucrats immediately.