MEPs reject budget after fraud row

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The Independent Online
EURO MPS yesterday delivered a humiliating rebuff to the European Commission, refusing to approve a set of annual accounts and paving the way for a vote next month on whether to sack all 20 commissioners.

The unexpected act of militancy came after months of tension over accusations of fraud and mismanagement in the Commission's multi-million pound annual budget.

The vote, in which MEPs refused to sign off a set of EU accounts dating from 1996, has no effect on the Commission's day-to-day finances, and themotion, which would lead to the resignation of the commissioners, is unlikely to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority. Nevertheless, yesterday's vote was a blow to the prestige of the Commission and its president, Jacques Santer. In all, 270 of the 518 present voted to withhold approval of the accounts against 225 and 23 abstentions.

The censure motion will be debated in January at the request of Pauline Green, leader of the socialist group, the majority of whose members wanted to agree the accounts.

She argued that failure to rubber-stamp the budget amounted to a vote of no-confidence in the Commission, and that a censure motion was needed to clear the air. Most socialists, including Ms Green, will back the Commission.

All seven previous attempts to censure the European Commission, the last in 1991, have been defeated or withdrawn.

Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of the Conservative MEPs who argued against approval of the accounts, said: "This was the strongest condemnation of the European Commission since I was elected in 1984. I believe specific commissioners should consider their positions following the vote."

Parliamentarians have complained that the Commission has not gone far enough to guarantee regular fraud reports, to keep national justice officials informed of investigations or to create an independent anti-fraud office.