Bangemann pension row goes to court

MARTIN BANGEMANN, the outgoing European commissioner who plunged Brussels into a new sleaze crisis, was last night facing the prospect of legal action to recover his pension, worth an estimated pounds 60,000 a year.

European governments agreed to launch proceedings last night after diplomats thrashed out a new, more aggressive policy against Mr Bangemann. The latter, who as the German commissioner for industry had responsibility for telecommunications strategy, caused outrage by announcing plans to join the board of a Spanish telecoms giant, Telefonica, for an estimated salary of pounds 700,000 a year.

On Thursday, European Union ambassadors recommended legal action in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. That decision was last night approved unanimously by foreign ministers. They also agreed to allow Jacques Santer, the outgoing Commission president, and Emma Bonino, acting humanitarian affairs commissioner, to step down early as both have been elected to the European Parliament.

Britain has pushed hard for action against Mr Bangemann, whose job decision was condemned as "deplorable" by Tony Blair. A tough course became almost inevitable when Germany decided to support the move. "The UK fully supports the ambassadors' recommendation. We think this is necessary because people expect the highest standards of public life in the Commission as well as in national governments," a British official said.

If he goes to court, Mr Bangemann will be accused of breaching EU rules on the behaviour of commissioners during and after their terms of office. In particular, the ambassadors want the judges to decide whether Mr Bangemann has disregarded a clause which requires that commissioners "behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits".

Mr Bangemann's insistence that he will not take telecoms secrets with him to one of the sector's biggest operators has done nothing to quell anger over his appointment.

Like the rest of the Commission which resigned en masse in March, following allegations of sleaze and cronyism, Mr Bangemann has been continuing to preform his old job until replacements take charge. That will not happen until September, although he will be released from duties earlier.

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