Socialist MEPs reject Santer as president

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The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN UNION was last night on the verge of a new crisis over the Commission presidency as Socialist MEPs rejected John Major's favoured candidate.

The European Socialists, including 62 British Labour MEPs, decided to oppose Jacques Santer's candidacy in a vote today at the Strasbourg parliament. 'I'm sure that there will be a majority to reject,' Pauline Green, a Labour MEP and leader of the powerful Socialist group, said last night. 'And if the parliament rejects, it is clear we've got to have another candidate.'

A vote in the assembly in Strasbourg seems likely to go against Mr Santer after the Socialist group opposed him late last night by an overwhelming majority of 105-38 with four abstentions. Although not binding, today's vote would deal a massive blow to his candidacy and almost certainly force his withdrawal, severely embarrassing the Prime Minister.

The British Labour MEPs decided to oppose Mr Santer's candidacy in today's vote by an overwhelming majority, and the Socialist group followed suit. Socialist MEPs from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and France were solidly against, with Greek and Spanish MEPs undecided. The Socialist group, at 198 members the largest in the 567-seat Strasbourg assembly, plays a decisive role and the 62 British Labour members, the largest single national group, are highly influential within it.

The motive for their rejection is the same adduced by John Major for blocking Jean-Luc Dehaene at the Corfu summit. 'The largest reason, overwhelmingly, was the squalid nature of the way that Mr Santer's candidacy came about,' Mrs Green said.

Mr Major called Mr Santer 'the right man in the right place at the right time'. But he is seen as too weak by the parliament, though he reasserted his federalist credentials in hearings on Tuesday. MEPs object to the lack of consultation over his appointment and they feel that the British Prime Minister should not be allowed to get away with his veto.

Mr Santer seems certain of support from most of his centre-right European People's Party. It has 152 members, but not all are very happy about him. He is seen as too low-profile after Jacques Delors and many of the smaller groups will vote against him.

The vote is not legally binding, but without support from the assembly, it is hard to see how Mr Santer could continue. 'Politically . . . any candidate who fails to secure a majority from parliament has failed,' said Klaus Hansch, the new President of the European Parliament. The EU would then be forced into crisis, and a new candidate would have to be found.

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