Former police officer takes centre stage

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PAULINE GREEN sometimes jokes that she is well prepared for a prominent role in the European Parliament: not only did she spend four years in the police, she has also worked with disruptive teenagers.

Since those days, with the help of plain-talking, thorough preparation and not a little toughness, Ms Green has come a long way. As leader of the 214-strong socialist group in the European Parliament, she meets every three months with left-wing leaders from around Europe - 11 of whom happen to be prime ministers.

She is trusted in No 10 and is seen as a possible Labour contender for London mayor. And it is little surprise to find her at the heart of the current drama over fraud in Brussels, one in which her decisions could determine the fate of a European Commission as it faces expulsion from office in Thursday's vote.

On this occasion, however, things have not gone according to plan. Ms Green helped precipitate the crisis when, in December, her political opponents refused to sign off the European Union's budget for 1996. She raised the stakes and put down a censure motion designed to secure the commission a vote of confidence. To succeed (and sack the entire commission), two- thirds of the parliament would have to vote for censure - something which looked impossible until the commission enraged MEPs by suspending a whistle- blowing official.

Amid a welter of further allegations, the commission she wants to save has looked more vulnerable than ever. Worse, her socialist group has begun to fracture as fears mount that it is being seen as soft on EU fraud. Ms Green's reaction has been typical. She has raised the stakes again, and blitzed the Continent's airwaves to explain herself. If other MEPs pass a motion critical of individual commissioners, Ms Green now says she may reverse her position, and vote to expel the whole lot. This would, Ms Green says, be better than a "witch-hunt" of those who happen to be exclusively socialists.

Her critics have attacked this tortuous logic, and Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of the Conservative MEPs, yesterday labelled her "the most confused woman in Europe".

Born in 1948 to a Maltese mother and a father in the services, Pauline Green was brought up in Malta, Egypt and Germany before moving to north London, aged 14. After the police, she obtained an Open University degree and worked for the Co-operative movement before election to the Strasbourg assembly. Married to a senior Scotland Yard officer, Ms Green lives north London and has two grown-up children.

Her political rise has been steady and impressive. Fans liken her to Labour's last well-known woman on the Strasbourg stage, Barbara Castle.

One ally argued: "She is not `strong' in the Thatcher, handbag-swinging sense. But she does her homework, she is always well briefed. Her views are very frank and she earns respect by laying them on the table."

Loyal to Labour and a safe pair of hands, Ms Green is hardly flamboyant. But she also has a feel for the continental, alliance-forging, consensus- creating style of politics. With all too few such people at their disposal, both Tony Blair and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, would back her for another term as socialist leader.

Ms Green's strategy now seems to be to try and draw the issue to a close which avoids the "nuclear option" of sacking the commission, and to claim credit for the concessions being offered to the parliament.