The last stand of the Burgermeister

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the Burgermeister's last stand, a final puffing of the petty functionary's chest, a valedictory outpouring of righteous indignation that anyone should have the impertinence to suggest that he might have failed in his job. It was also an unmitigated disaster.

When Jacques Santer took the rostrum in Brussels yesterday, on the morning after the report of the night before, a touch of contrition from the Commission's President might yet have earned forgiveness. Not, however, after a performance that gave the word "impertinence" new meaning.

"I reject the conclusions of the report," he declared for openers. "The picture is distorted ... wholly unjustified." It was "a slur" on the reputation of 19,000 toiling and honest Eurocrats. And then the most breathtaking assertion of all, that the independent experts had found his own performance to be "whiter than white".

A curious proposition, to put it mildly, given how the report singled out Mr Santer in person for failing to take a "meaningful interest" in the Commission's Security Office, which had been permitted to turn into "a state within state".

It was the spluttering outrage of a mayor of a middle-sized city caught napping after one decent lunch too many - which in a sense exactly describes the previous job experience of Jacques Santer, the one-time Prime Minister of the 350,000 good citizens of the little state of Luxembourg.

That Mr Santer was promoted so greatly beyond his station is to the credit of our own former prime minister John Major, who out of pique in 1994 vetoed the widely favoured candidacy of the Belgian Prime Minister, Jean- Luc Dehaene.

The current Prime Minister yesterday was not so supportive. "I will be blunt," said Mr Blair.

"We cannot have the next president decided in the same way as the last, debating the narrow interests of one country or another.

"The top jobs, not just in the Commission, but throughout the European institutions, should go to the top people. Merit and merit alone should decide," he said.