Kohl and Chirac attack Brussels

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The Independent Online
JACQUES SANTER, President of the European Commission, has come under fierce pressure to get a grip on his colleagues, after Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac launched a scathing attack on Brussels for squandering its authority on petty interference.

In an unexpected onslaught before a delighted John Major, Chancellor Kohl used the EU summit dinner for the 15 heads of government to accuse Mr Santer of allowing the Commission to run out of control. He reminded Mr Santer that the Commission was the servant, and not the master, of the EU's member states.

Joining an attack that could mark the first stage of a drive to reduce the Commission's influence, President Chirac derided the Commission for poking its nose into national pastimes such as the hunting of birds. And he joked savagely that since the Latin American trading bloc Mercosur did not have a Commission, perhaps the EU should lend it one.

Leaked accounts of the dinner circulating in Madrid yesterday gave an unprecedented indication that governments other than Britain's are worried about the sceptical shift in public opinion on the EU.

In a 20-minute diatribe, the German Chancellor made clear that he was under growing pressure from the Lander (provincial governments) to take a much tougher line with the Commission. He complained about its habit of producing expensive and useless statistics, for example on tourism. Mr Kohl said all this had to be paid for out of the hard-earned money of Germany's taxpayers.

Mr Major congratulated Mr Kohl for making a very British speech. But some of the German Chancellor's agenda is less congenial to Britain, in that it derives from growing irritation that the Commission's pettiness is eroding its authority to drive forward the "grand European project", including monetary union.

Mr Kohl is also questioning whether the Commission needs to hold daily press briefings, and - more significantly - wants it made easier to sack Commissioners who step out of line. There was intense irritation in Bonn when Neil Kinnock, the Transport Commissioner, broke ranks to question the 1999 deadline for monetary union. The antics of Ritt Bjerregaard, the Environment Commissioner who tried to publish her memoirs earlier this year, have also heaped ridicule on the EU.