Brussels puts eccentric Dane in doghouse

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The Independent Online
Strasbourg - If yesterday was a bad day for the anti-nuclear lobby in Europe it was a an even worse day for Ritt Bjerregaard, writes Sara Helm.

Ms Bjerregaard, the European Union's eccentric Danish Environment Commissioner, yesterday lost her campaign to end French nuclear tests; she was scorned in the Parliament, ridiculed in the press and patronised by the President of the Commission, Jacques Santer.

Ms Bjerregaard could have consoled herself that her spicy new book - The Commissioner's Diary - might now become a bestseller in Brussels. But she also learned yesterday that she will see none of the money. "I have heard from President Santer that there are rules that one may not receive fees. I intend to follow them," she said at a press conference in Strasbourg.

The Commissioner's Diary reveals details of Ms Bjerregaard's private meetings with European leaders. It accuses President Jacques Chirac of trying to be a "strong man". Other commissioners are sniped at, details of discussions revealed. Ms Bjerregaard, however, cannot be sacked - except by an action for breach of duty in the European Court.

News that the book is about to be published could not have come at a worse time for Ms Bjerregaard - or the anti-nuclear campaign. The environment commissioner has been lobbying Mr Santer to take stronger action against France over nuclear tests. She promised Parliament she would campaign for an end to the tests. Mr Santer, who was against taking action, has been trying to pull Ms Bjerregaard into line. Already under attack for presenting a poorly argued case, this further undermined her credibility.

When Mr Santer told Parliament yesterday that France was off the hook, Ms Bjerregaard was obliged to watch in silence. At the press conference she had to sit beside Mr Santer like a naughty schoolgirl. The press were not interested in her anti-nuclear campaign. They wanted to know only what secrets she would publish in the next serialised episode of her book.