Santer fights prospect of sacking entire commission

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The Independent Online
JACQUES SANTER, the beleaguered president of the European Commission, will today seek to assuage mounting calls for the resignation of two of his Commissioners by announcing new measures against abuse of power in Brussels.

As MEPs gather for a debate which could end with the sacking of the entire EC, Mr Santer will adopt a conciliatory tone and bow to one of the parliamentarians' requests. However, Mr Santer's eleventh-hour olive branch was last night described as a "minimum demand" by one leading critic, and a larger package of measures is likely to be needed to buy off parliament.

Several groups of MEPs are demanding the resignation of Edith Cresson and Manuel Marn, the two Commissioners who have come in for the most criticism and passions have been inflamed by the suspension of Paul van Buitenen, a "whistle-blower" who worked in the Commission.

Wim Kok, the Dutch prime minister, added to the pressure by arguing that, if more than half the parliament supports a motion critical of individual Commissioners, it would be "difficult" for them to continue. Technically such a vote would not force them out of office.

Mr Santer will hope to lower the temperature by offering a new, updated and toughened code of conduct to cover Commissioners and their staff. This would lay down new rules for appointments and thereby outlaw favouritism and overt patronage in job allocations.

"It will be adopted in the next few months and made public... and will strengthen the transparency and openness of the European Commission," said an EC spokesman.

However, Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of Conservative MEPs, said: "The code of conduct is now a minimum requirement for us. We are calling for other measures including the lifting of diplomatic immunity from those working in the Commission while helping police with inquiries, and the reinstatement in full of Mr van Buitenen."

Some senior figures within the parliament believe that the row has become so bitter that it will be difficult to assuage MEPs without resignations from the Commission.

Other initiatives being debated by Mr Santer's staff include a new committee, composed jointly of EC and Parliament staff, to investigate the specific allegations which have arisen. The Commission president may also give more details of reforms to the in-house fraud-busting unit.

The EC has faced mass censure four times before but MEPs, who need a two-thirds majority to expel all 20 Commissioners, have never succeeded in triggering the "nuclear option".