Blair says no to big pay-off for Santer

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A MOVE TO block severance payments of up to pounds 300,000 each for Jacques Santer and other disgraced members of the European Commission was launched by the Prime Minister yesterday.

Mr Santer finally bowed to the inevitable and promised to stand down as the Commission's president following the scathing criticism of fraud and mismanagement in an official inquiry. But the beleaguered Commission ran into further controversy when it emerged that members who lose their jobs could qualify for payoffs of between pounds 220,000 and pounds 300,000.

Tony Blair told the House of Commons yesterday: "In respect to the payoffs, of course, if someone is guilty of fraud or misconduct, those will not apply." However, there was scepticism in Brussels about whether Mr Blair's move would succeed. Some sources suggested the commissioners would be entitled to severance payments because there was no evidence they had personally benefited from fraud.

Edith Cresson, the French commissioner criticised by the inquiry, would be entitled to around pounds 72,000 a year for three years, plus a permanent pension of about pounds 30,000 a year.

Mr Blair's spokesman insisted that huge payoffs would look "odd", adding: "If people leave under a cloud with fraud in the air, we would want to make sure that was looked at properly."

Ministers revealed last night that Mr Blair's plans for sweeping reforms of the Commission could include beefing up the Council of Ministers from the EU's member states. Under Mr Blair's blueprint, each EU country might nominate a "Minister for Europe" to monitor the Commission's work.

After meeting the 19 members of his team in Brussels yesterday, Mr Santer abandoned his efforts to cling to his post until his five-year term of office ends in December. The Commission agreed to stop all but the most urgent work and remain only in a managerial capacity until replacements could be appointed. "We have resigned and we have neither the desire nor the intention to remain in office a moment longer than is necessary", the commissioners said in a statement. Review, page 3