Leading article: Only radical reform will cure the EU of its corruption

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ONE OF the proudest boasts of the founding fathers of the project of European integration more than 40 years ago was that the Commissioners of the European Community would be required to take an oath. By this, their primary allegiance was pledged to Europe rather than the "home" nations and governments that had sent them to Brussels. The latest report into corruption in the European Union suggests that, in too many cases, European Commissioners' first allegiances these days are to themselves, their cronies, and even their dentists.

The humiliation of the Commission of the European Union at the hands of the "wise men" who reported on the allegations of fraud, and particularly the case of Edith Cresson, tells us all we needed, wanted, and, indeed, feared to learn about the state of "Europe" today. It is corrupt. Indeed, to adapt a fashionable phrase, it is "institutionally corrupt". That is to say that the faults lie not so much in the personalities involved but in the very nature of the institutions themselves. They are "dysfunctional".

It would, of course, be preferable to see the Commission filled with men and women who do not fit quite into the superannuated cabinet minister mould. There is too much of the Elysian Fields about nominations to these important posts. But even the most idealistic of commissioners might be tempted to become arrogant without accountability.

The time has come for Europe's friends to acknowledge that radical reform to the EU's institutions is more than desirable: it is the only way in which the whole European ideal can be realised. Europe faces major challenges. We cannot expect the euro to be strong, or for the EU to take on the United States in a trade war, or to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, or embrace countries to the east, with EU institutions which are not up to these tasks.

Europe needs a constitution badly. For a political entity comprising 350 million people, with a single currency and common foreign and defence policies, to lack viable democratically accountable structures is a dangerous flaw. What we have is a series of sometimes contradictory Treaties, case law in the European Court and a corpus of decisions and conventions made by the Commission and Council of Ministers. Hardly a "citizens' Europe". Many members of the EU, such as Denmark, have ancient democratic traditions: others, such as Germany and Spain, have modern constitutions that are models of devolution. There is the unique accountability which the Westminster system imposes on the executive. It cannot be beyond the wit of Europe to take the best of these traditions and frame a simple set of political rules to manage its affairs. If Europe fails to reform itself, then it will not command, and will not deserve to command, the allegiance of its citizens.