Leading Article: We need a revolt in Brussels to deal with these new Bourbons
Friday 02 July 1999
At every turn, the Commission demonstrates precisely the same capacity to appal and exactly the same insouciance about public opinion as the Bourbons displayed before they met their unhappy end in the French Revolution. The decision by EU Commissioner Martin Bangemann to take a job at a salary of pounds 700,000 a year with the Spanish company Telefonica - in an industry which he was responsible for policing - is, as fellow Commissioner Neil Kinnock said, "flabbergasting". It may not lead to a storming of the Berlaymont or the Breydel, but it does tarnish the nobility of the European ideal and, at a more practical level, further undermine the chances of the British electorate ever voting to join the euro. Reform should be the priority of those devoted to the European cause.
Nothing less than a revolution is needed in the way that Brussels runs itself. European politicians have talked for years in a desultory fashion about addressing "the democratic deficit". Successive European treaties have handed the European Parliament powers which it appears unwilling to exercise. The reaction of Pauline Green, leader of the Socialist group of MEPs - who has not always stood up to the Commission - suggests that she still may not recognise the scale of the problem: "It's very sad when you have to tie down every little nook and cranny of a contract." Yes, it is sad. But, Mrs Green, it will have to be done. If the MEPs won't do it, then we will have to rely on the Council of Ministers to impose accountability on behalf of the citoyens.
The jailing of Jonathan Aitken and yesterday's Committee on Standards Report on Peter Mandelson remind us that dealing with sleaze is something that the British political system has been forced to become rather good at. The Ministerial Code, the register of Commons Interests, the Neill Commission and all the rest of the paraphernalia cannot be simply exported to Brussels, but they could be modified. Brussels must be "Nolanised". More difficult to transplant is political culture. Nowhere among the party- list hacks of the European Parliament is there a Tam Dalyell, say, or a Chris Mullin, backbenchers of independent mind with the tenacity to take on the executive. Until Brussels grows more troublemakers, the bureaucrats will continue to remind us of Napoleon's other description of the Bourbons - "hereditary asses".
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