Kinnock bars former EC official from joining BNFL

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The Independent Online

A former senior official in the European Commission is to be barred from taking up a £20,000-a-year job as a non-executive director with the state-owned reprocessing company British Nuclear Fuels after allegations of sleaze.

The appointment of Jim Currie, the EC's former director general for environment, nuclear safety and civil protection, to the board of BNFL caused a storm of protest when it was announced last month.

Now Mr Currie, 60, is expected to be told by the Commission's vice-president Neil Kinnock that he should not take up the post immediately because of the conflict of interest with his previous job.

However, as a compromise the Commission may allow Mr Currie to join BNFL after a suitable period of quarantine ­ perhaps 18 months ­ and then only on certain agreed terms.

BNFL, the operator of the Sellafield nuclear waste recycling plant, announced Mr Currie's appointment on 4 March and indeed stated in its press release that he had joined the board on 1 March for a three-year term of office.

But when the Commission then wrote to Mr Currie asking him to explain his actions, he replied that he had not yet accepted the post at BNFL.

The Commission's staff regulations state that officials should refrain from accepting jobs with outside organisations if this could lead to a conflict of interest with their former post. Mr Kinnock said: "Such a conflict is generally considered to be evident if the new activity is related to a dossier for which the official was responsible."

Mr Kinnock also said that where its rules had been flouted the Commission would, if necessary, "take measures to penalise such a violation". Commission sources said, however, that there was no question of Mr Currie being penalised financially.

Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MP for the North-west and the party's environment spokesman in the European Parliament, has led the campaign against Mr Currie's appointment. He said such a move was bound to create the impression that "the financial lure of industry has too great an influence over EU officials".

Mr Davies added: "How can environmentalists trust the impartiality of the Commission in determining environmental policy if they believe that top officials are lining themselves up for retirement jobs with the very companies they are supposed to police?"

EC staff regulations state that former officials should seek permission to take on outside jobs for up to three years after they have left. Mr Currie, who left the Commission last year, did seek approval to become a non-executive director at Royal Bank of Scotland. However, he failed to do likewise for the BNFL job. "It must have been a blind spot, and now the poor guy is in a bit of a fix," one Brussels observer said. "It was a cock-up on his part more than anything."

BNFL said: "It is matter for Jim whether he takes up the job but it would be a pity if he doesn't. The job of an independent non-executive director is to challenge the management rather than agree blindly with whatever it does. But clearly the appointment is not as straightforward as he or we thought."

Mr Currie could not be reached for comment.