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Kinnock launches Brussels clean-up

TOUGH ANTI-sleaze rules for Europe's 20 new commissioners will be agreed tomorrow as part of a clean-up aimed at ending conflicts of interest and corruption.

A new code of conduct has been drawn up by Neil Kinnock, the former Labour Party leader, who is due to become the European Commission's vice-president in charge of reform in Brussels. He is to demand that all 20 commissioners sign it.

The rules will force commissioners to observe a "cooling off" period before they take a private-sector job. For the first time, they will be obliged to attend weekly meetings of the full Commission, unless they have the prior permission of the incoming president, the Italian Romano Prodi, to be absent.

The code aims to prevent any conflict of interest for sitting and retiring commissioners. "It will ensure once and for all that they cannot use their experience to parachute themselves into highly paid jobs, employ their friends or ignore corruption in their departments," a senior official said.

The need for new rules was underlined by Martin Bangemann, Germany's former industry commissioner, who had responsibility for telecommunications. He provoked an outcry by announcing his decision to join the board of a Spanish telecoms giant for a reported salary of pounds 700,000. Last week, European Union member states decided to try to stop his pension rights by taking court action.

It emerged yesterday that a strong personal attack on Mr Bangemann enabled Mr Kinnock to land his important job as the EU's "sleaze-buster". A transcript of his remarks was shown to Mr Prodi, who expanded the much smaller role he planned for Mr Kinnock in charge of liaison with the European Parliament.

The transcript, obtained by The Independent, reveals that Mr Kinnock told Mr Bangemann his actions "breed cynicism and distrust, not only among the general public and those who work with us and for us - they make me cynical and distrustful and angry too."

He added: "My respect for a man that I have valued as an able and friendly colleague vanished. If you were not here I would not have said that. But I do say it now because I can say it to your face."

Mr Kinnock also plans sweeping reforms for the Commission's 17,000 civil servants, to bring in promotion on merit. He wants a crackdown on its armed security service, which was criticised as a "state within a state" by the inquiry into fraud and nepotism in March which led to the resignation of the entire Commission.

The code of conduct is due to be agreed this weekend when the new Commission meets for the first time for a "bonding session" at a chateau in Aartselaar in Belgium. One senior source described the code as "the first step in the reform process and in restoring public confidence in the Commission".

Mr Prodi has already extracted a promise from all the new commissioners that they will resign if asked, making him more powerful than any of his predecessors. His allies say he may have a mid-term reshuffle if he believes some members of his team are under-performing.

t The centre-right parties allied in the European People's Party, who overturned the Socialist dominance in last month's European election, yesterday joined the smaller Liberal Group to share the presidency of the European Parliament over the impending five-year legislature, shutting the Socialist faction out of the presidency for the first time.