IT IS no secret that Germany is using the scandal to weaken the Commission in its attempts to reduce the German contribution to cohesion funds. It does not want to pay the costs of enlargement. Germany wants to reverse the principle of inter-regional solidarity underpinning the common economic policy. But this does not mean what it says is necessarily false. The important thing is to establish whether their accusations against the Commission are true. The new Europe cannot emerge under a leadership suspected of corruption. It is obvious that the Brussels management system is opaque and out of touch.
The Daily Telegraph
BOTH THE European Commission and Parliament are now thoroughly discredited. They have shown themselves to be ready to tolerate serious malpractice rather than allow the unification of Europe to be impeded. The investigation announced yesterday might, if it led to sacking, begin to restore a fraction of the Parliament's credibility. But for now, the EU as a whole must be counted an enemy of clean administration.
THE FEDERAL [German] government, which must take far-reaching decisions during EU presidency, needs a Commission that can support its Agenda 2000 plans with courage and competence. The government must therefore support Santer and his team. But it must also show consideration for the European Parliament and their anger with Brussels, and it has to think ahead of the coming European elections in June.
THE CLEANING-UP operation promised by Mr Santer in response to parliamentary criticism is welcome, but it is not enough. The EU's member nations need to start the process of framing a new political constitution for the EU. It is already common ground that the launch of the euro and plans to enlarge the union require some important changes. A broader agenda is now needed, to make the Commission more accountable, to make EU decision making much more open, and to infuse the whole system with more political legitimacy.
EDITH CRESSON is accused of hiring a personal friend as an adviser, and Marin has been criticised for a lack of control over community funds that he manages. These do not seem sufficient motives to unleash a crisis of these proportions. The real reasons are different. It is the negotiation of the community budget that has poisoned things. The Germans and Dutch, instigators of the confrontation, are taking advantage of some minor irregularities to justify a drastic reduction of European social funds - to which Jacques Santer presents an obstacle. It is obvious that the Commission will be damaged by a dispute that is inopportune for the EU, and incomprehensible for the general public.
SANTER COMPLAINS that "we are the victim of our own transparency". If Santer becomes a victim in the next few days, then it is because he is not in control of his political business. Brussels now needs to be controlled - Santer must accept that. The 20 commissioners do not constitute a government, but they have long been more than an administration. What is lacking is a clear distribution of power; a Constitution for Europe. This will not be attained in the short term, however. The nepotism, the mess caused by the commissioners, does not, upon sober reflection, warrant the resignation of the complete Commission, but the most incompetent commissioners must go.
CRESSON AND Marin have managed to avoid the political guillotine. The whole affair will be dealt with in the same way as the mad cow disease business in February 1997 - the Commission will simply be asked to instigate some internal reforms in order to sort out its workings. And it is clear that the majority of the state members don't want to modify their agendas and replace Santer's team prematurely. The Commission can count itself saved, for several weeks, or months anyway. At the moment, negotiations on internal reform in the Union will take precedence, and the electoral campaign will be launched. Who will be bothered with this scandal?
EUROPEAN UNION SHOWDOWN
THE TRIAL OF BILL CLINTON
US opinion about the trial of the President in the Senate for perjury and obstruction of justice
This second-ever trial of an American president comes across more as surreal, political farce than national crisis. Indeed, millions of workaday Americans found Michael Jordan's retirement, Dolphins Coach Jimmy Johnson's anguishings and the stock market's jumpiness because of Brazil's devalued currency to be of more consequence. The trial is like a play that has gone on far too long with windy characters following a tiresome script and a plot that's utterly predictable. Any wonder America is sick of this?
The New York Times
THE MOST striking thing about the House managers' recitation of evidence against President Clinton was its redundancy. We know that Mr Clinton lied with persistence. We know that he coached others to cover up for him. We know that he failed, through careful planning and steady irresponsibility, in his constitutional duty to see that the laws were faithfully enforced. We have long known that William Jefferson Clinton is a terrible example for youth, as well as for adults involved in legal proceedings.
Only the White House lawyers seriously dispute the facts, and that they do at Mr Clinton's peril. In effectively presenting the obstruction-of- justice case, Representative Asa Hutchinson demonstrated that Mr Clinton's lawyers have to be careful about focusing on the facts and arguing the law. That strategy backfired in the House and will again in the Senate.
Christian Science Monitor
EACH SIDE casts the outcome in the starkest terms. The House argues that, if the President is not convicted for this conduct, no House will ever be able to impeach again and no Senate will ever convict. The White House replies that removing the President under these circumstances would seriously weaken the presidency and alter the constitutional balance of powers. Such arguments are predictable, and neither stark outcome is foreordained.
IF CLINTON cannot be removed from office for perjury, as the White House asserts, why did three federal judges lose their jobs for precisely the same abuse? Or, as Rep. James Sensenbrenner put it in outlining the House's case against the President, do we set "a lower standard for lying under oath for presidents than for judges"? The judges, like the President, swore oaths to uphold the law. If anything, a violation of that oath by a president is a greater offense. Not only does he hold greater sway over the use and direction of the law, but his behavior sets a standard for the nation as well. If the president need not heed the law, who must?
Los Angeles Times
CLINTON'S LAWYERS can be expected to present a strong legal defense when they speak next week. But there is nothing they or anyone else can say that will mitigate his moral failures. The one fact everyone can agree on is that Clinton has behaved abominably throughout this squalid business, and his acquittal by the Senate, if it comes, will neither rescue his reputation nor lighten the harm he has done to his presidency. We knew that last year. We know it now. And yet the repetitive arguments in Washington go on.
A MAJOR weakness in the House case is the continued failure to justify the impeachment under reigning constitutional standards and as a reasonable exercise of the House's discretion. This is not to suggest that perjury and obstruction of justice are not presumptively impeachable offenses, merely that the assumption that they always warrant impeachment and removal irrespective of circumstances is too rigid to be a sustainable principle.
MARGARET COOK'S MEMOIRS
Views on the portrait of the Foreign Secretary that emerges from his former wife's portrayal of their failed marriage
MARGARET COOK has not landed her punches as lightly as she disingenuously claims. But aside from her allegations of past drinking and pill popping, there is little, including his reciprocated antipathy to Gordon Brown, that was not already public knowledge.
MR COOK may feel ashamed and foolish, but he should not be driven from office. His alleged failings certainly do not reflect well on him as a husband. But with the exception of claims about his drinking, they do not reflect on his ability as a foreign secretary.
MUCH THAT Mr Cook appears to have done in his private life bears all too heavily upon the public man. The incipient discourtesy, selfishness, arrogance and petulance that Margaret Cook lays bare suggest that this is not a man who should occupy one of the great offices of state. (Simon Heffer)
THE MORE politicians indulge themselves in finger-wagging, the more they lay themselves open to scrutiny of their own lives. It would be absurd to defend Margaret Cook's revelations on such grounds - if anything Mr Cook is less censorious of other people's behaviour than most politicians. The point is that the boundary between private and public is more blurred than those who call for privacy laws acknowledge, and politicians are largely responsible for the blurring.
MOST OF the troubles in Cook's private life were years ago. If he needed to resign over his affair with Gaynor Regan, the time to do so is long past. And the word of a woman scorned can hardly be viewed as an unbiased character reference.
MR COOK had been hollowed out, long before Margaret Cook anatomised the hollow man. He is going to try to cling to office, and as for the loss of dignity, he has no idea what the word means. (Bruce Anderson)
LAWRENCE CASE POLICE
Reaction to the retirement of a police officer faced with disciplinary charges in the Lawrence case
THE POLICE may argue that in other professions people are able to retire quietly when facing disciplinary charges. But by the nature of their job and the power entrusted in them, they must be a special case. The fact that not a single police officer will be disciplined will do the police service nothing but harm. Jack Straw must act to reassure us that such a state of affairs cannot happen again.
FROM BEGINNING to end, the case has been a horror story, reflecting discredit upon all involved. And, amid our anger towards the policemen who failed in their duty in investigating murder, we should never forget the greatest injustice of all: that the men who did the killing, their identities known to all, today walk free and laughing, knowing that they are beyond the reach of the law.
IT HARDLY matters whether Inspector Bullock failed in his duty, or whether - as some believe - he was just a scapegoat for the failings of others more senior. Since he has quit, there will be no hearing to sift the evidence or apportion blame. What is left is the certainty of dreadful wrong. Nobody but the victim's relatives and friends has suffered the slightest penalty.
AN OFFICER threatened with legal or disciplinary charges should be made to face the charges whether he has retired or not. Their lack of accountability - and the way the officers involved in the shocking Lawrence case have avoided any punishment - is a national disgrace.
Opinion following the Health Secretary's decision not to close Ashworth mental hospital
BEYOND THE question of wrongdoing at Ashworth lies the deeper question of whether such prison-like mental homes have any place in the modern world. Frank Dobson is wrong to have rejected the report's recommendation that Ashworth be closed down. Management failure there most certainly was, and it is right that those concerned should carry the can; but the problems of Ashworth are also fundamental, and even the best management in the world would struggle to make a place like Ashworth anything other than a disaster.
THE GOVERNMENT will not close Ashworth down. Understandably. For it cannot close Ashworth without having somewhere else to put its inmates, present and future. But that does not mean there should not be a long- term plan. It cannot happen immediately. But closure should be the option the Government is aiming at.
AS USUAL in the NHS, the staff were doing a difficult job to the best of their ability. But they were let down by the bureaucrats in charge. It is scary that the public would never have known about the Ashworth scandal if an inmate hadn't blown the whistle. How many more powder kegs are being covered up to save management necks?
THE MOST important recommendation, that Ashworth be closed down, was rejected by ministers. What ministers should commit themselves to is building up alternative units and scaling down the size of the current special hospitals.
Stories from around the world
THOSE WHO fish by the moon finally have an excuse for being unlucky. The phases of the moon carried in most calendars and diaries are out of kilter with New Zealand. Those who plant by the moon, should get their dates and times right by referring to the Astronomical Handbook.
HUNDREDS OF people queued outside the Witness yesterday to get copies of the paper, which carried application forms for 57 municipal jobs. The posts are for refuse collectors and street sweepers with the city's Waste Management division. One man in the queue said that he doesn't care what job is offered to him or how low the salary is: "Money is printed on the same paper and it has the same buying power regardless of what you do."
THE PROGRESS Party has latched on to a bill drafted by the Labour Party that will prevent the news media from publishing names and photos of people suspected, charged or being tried for crimes. The fact that Labour has taken this initiative both surprises and scares us.
THE VIEWS OF THE WORLD
Quotes of the Week
"Mr Clinton does not have the strength of character to be a war criminal."
Henry Kissinger (above), former US Secretary of State
"At 62 years old, I am happier on my 180mph motor cycle than I am taking Viagra."
Liberal Democrat frontbencher the Viscount of Falkland
"If there is a project that can pump a bit of excitement into the big depressed sponge that is the core of English negativity, then it will be worth doing."
Rock singer Peter Gabriel, who has been appointed musical director of the Millennium Experience
"You could be a sack of potatoes on TV and you'd still get a sex following."
`Coronation Street' "hunk", actor Adam Rickitt
"I love Scotland. It's a loony sort of place."
Screaming Lord Sutch, disclosing that he and others in his Monster Raving Loony Party plan to stand for the Scottish Parliament