The Parliament has delivered a clear warning that it is intent on playing a much more important role than before the Maastricht treaty. 'This is the most important vote ever taken by the European Parliament,' said Wayne David, leader of the British Labour MEPs.
The Socialist group, which decided on Wednesday to block Mr Santer's appointment, split in two, as did the Liberal Democrat and Reformist group. But they came close enough to causing a constitutional crisis to frighten diplomats. MEPs were angered by the way Mr Santer was chosen, and especially John Major's veto on Jean-Luc Dehaene at the Corfu summit.
Of the 567-member Parliament, 260 voted yesterday for Mr Santer, 238 against.
Pauline Green, leader of the Socialist group, called the method of selecting Mr Santer 'unworkable, unacceptable, undemocratic and dishonest'. In future the Council of Ministers, which groups member state governments, would have to consult the Parliament, she said.
Mrs Green, MEP for North London, added: 'They have been very worried for the last 24 hours.' But she could not hide her disappointment at defeat, especially when the Socialists came so close to dislodging the centre-right Mr Santer and embarrassing Mr Major.
The Portugese, Spanish, Greek, Danish and Irish socialists and Social Democrats - 45 in all - split from their group and joined the centre-right parties in voting for Mr Santer. Each party is in government at home, and there was heavy lobbying from national capitals, MEPs said. Heads of government, who chose Mr Santer, would have been embarrassed if their parties had rejected him. Among those who opposed him were the 140-strong remainder of the Socialist group, some Greens, the Communists and the French National Front.
Yesterday Mr Santer was frantically trying to build bridges. 'I think that the European Parliament has shown itself worthy of the powers given to it,' he said.
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