MEPs will use Santer to test their powers: The newly elected European Parliament will make or break Delors' successor, Andrew Marshall writes from Brussels

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The Independent Online
JACQUES SANTER, the choice of European Union leaders to succeed Jacques Delors as president of the European Commission, must this week satisfy the European Parliament that he is the man for the job.

A senior diplomat in Brussels who was closely involved with negotiating the Maastricht treaty, has long maintained that the European Parliament made the biggest gains from the rewriting of the EU's rules. This week will show whether it can make something of its new powers.

Mr Santer will address the 567 members of the new European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday - or at least he will address as many as can be bothered to turn up. There is an incentive to be there this week: it is the first plenary session since the elections in June and some of the key committee jobs will be handed out. With Parliament just starting to use the powers it won at Maastricht, these jobs are becoming of real importance.

After his speech, Parliament will vote on Mr Santer's acceptability. The vote has no formal legal significance, but if it goes against Mr Santer, there is little point in him proceeding with his candidacy. At the end of last week, MEPs were muttering that they might reject Mr Santer, saying that he lacked the vitality, ideas and strength to head the Commission after the Delors years. Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl consulted the European Parliament before EU leaders made their choice, as required by the treaty.

There is a fairly clear separation of powers in the EU between the Commission (the executive bureaucracy), the Council of Ministers (ministers from member states) and the assembly itself. But one of the checks and balances created by Maastricht is that the Parliament has to vote on the new Commission that comes into office next January. Thursday's vote is a dry run for that.

The Parliament will also use this vote to try to win a promise that before the end of this year, it should be told which commissioners will do which jobs and that they should appear before committees in US congressional-style approval hearings. This goes a bit further than what the treaty actually says but can be said to be implicit in it: it is a power-play.

Egon Klepsch, the outgoing president of the Parliament, made it clear last week that the assembly wanted guarantees from Mr Santer on this subject. 'He must make the necessary arrangements to ensure that the prospective new Commissioners, prior to confirmation of their appointment, are able to introduce themselves to the relevant committees of Parliament, depending on their prospective spheres of responsibilities, in November,' he told EU leaders.

Behind this is a threat. 'I would like to make it perfectly clear on behalf of the new Parliament that failing such a hearing, Parliament will not be able to give the necessary approval for the assumption of office of the new Commission.'

The Parliament, it should be said, has a record of not making good its promises or its threats. But about one- third of the members of the assembly are newly arrived, and hence an unknown quantity. The make-up of the new Parliament's political groups also makes it less manageable.

The key role will be played by the Party of European Socialists, led by Pauline Green, the British Labour MEP. After much wrangling, the centre-right has emerged fragmented and there are 33 MEPs outside the group system. Italy's Forza Italia has gone off on its own, France's ruling centre-right has split, and there is a new anti-European group that includes red- green Danes and the aristocratic right-wingers of France's L'Autre Europe.

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