Kinnock becomes EU sleaze-buster

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NEIL KINNOCK, who modernised the Labour Party in the Eighties, was given a second chance yesterday to take on vested interests, in a new European sleaze-busting post.

Mr Kinnock, who becomes vice-president with responsibility for internal reform of the European Commission, is now the most senior EU figure after Romano Prodi, the Commission's president. The former leader and moderniser of the Labour Party promised "absolutely no tolerance for any form of misbehaviour or fraud".

Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong and Britain's other commissioner, also won a senior post with responsibility for external relations.

However, for the second time in five years, Britain lost out on the chance to mastermind the EU's enlargement to the east, when that position went to Germany's Gunter Verheugen and the trade portfolio went to France's Pascal Lamy.

The Prime Minister said: "I'm particularly delighted for Neil, who's now number two at the Commission and will be crucial to the process of reform." Mr Blair added: "Both Neil and Chris will do a great job."

While Mr Kinnock faces the task of taking on the powerful vested interests within Brussels, Mr Patten will be forced to fight several turf wars. British officials argued yesterday that his role as co-ordinator of external relations gave him an overall role in the areas of enlargement, trade and development. However, Mr Verheugen and Mr Lamy are not likely to defer to Mr Patten.

Mr Prodi, who said he intended to take an interest in foreign affairs and economic policy himself, left the situation vague. "Mr Patten is responsible for co-ordination of external affairs. Enlargement is the direct responsibility of Mr Verheugen but he is not free to take all the decisions," he said.

The external relations post will also bring Mr Patten into conflict with Javier Solana, the secretary-general of Nato, who is to become the EU governments' new foreign policy figurehead. Mr Prodi confirmed that Mr Patten will be responsible for dealings with China.

The team announced yesterday could still come unstuck because the European Parliament must first approve the appointments. German Christian Democrats are already angry that the right has not been rewarded for its success in the European elections and that 10 Socialists will be represented in the Commission. There is also opposition to the return of four of the old commissioners, and the appointment of Mr Lamy, who is seen as being tainted by the old regime.

Prodi's shake-up, page 15