Candidates conferred with each other in examination halls, made calls on mobile phones from lavatories and were leaked questions in advance, according to a catalogue of complaints being investigated by the European Commission.
The revelations are a severe embarrassment to the authorities because the open competition is the first of its kind for five years and has been conducted under new procedures. Most confirmed problems arose in test centres in Heysel in Brussels, and in Rome.
One Belgian newspaper claimed to have collected 20 witnesses who were "astonished or plain scandalised by the laxity and confusion of the examiners". Applicants visited the lavatory en masse, exchanged answers and used mobile phones to ring out for answers, Le Soir added.
Other reports under investigation suggested answer papers were leaked by Commission employees to help friends or relatives. The authorities in Brussels admitted near-anarchy in Rome was caused by failure of the examiners to provide enough papers. Candidates, some of whom had seen their test papers, conferred freely while more were photocopied.
The Commission said it is investigating seven letters of complaint. Evidence of widespread cheating would be easy to detect if results in some of the 38 centres were markedly higher than in others, a spokeswoman said. No decision has been taken about resits.
Some 8,000 Britons are thought to have sat the examination at centres in north London and Edinburgh. About 30,000 candidates were invited to sit the exam, the first stage of the selection process, which consists of multiple choice questions designed to illustrate knowledge of Europe. The open competition is used to whittle down the applicants to a more manageable number who are then invited to sit further written tests and interviews.Reuse content