New European Parliament: Baptism of scorn for 'friendly' Santer: MEPs give Major's choice an uncomfortable time before he is elected to succeed Delors

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JACQUES SANTER finally found his voice yesterday. He rose at 12.30pm to address the European Parliament, his last chance to change their minds before they voted on his candidacy for President of the European Commission. He fumbled with his jacket, adjusted his microphone, shot his cuffs, toyed with his glasses and began his speech edgily.

But as he picked up pace, confidence seemed to return to him. After two weeks of being pilloried in the press, seeing his name made a byword for failure and inadequacy, fielding hostile questions from MEPs, he began to sound like a politician at last.

He made his case, reiterated that he had not chosen to stand for office and outlined his ideas for Europe. After giving one of the dreariest, least imaginative and empty speeches of the decade earlier yesterday morning, he was now speaking without notes. The careful briefings he had been given by various people - not least by London - could be left aside.

Mr Santer was followed by Klaus Kinkel, the Foreign Minister of Germany. Mr Kinkel has an unfortunate bullying manner, rather like a sports teacher who has recently been made deputy headmaster. He also has a nasty temper and an alarming way of raising and lowering his eyebrows rapidly under pressure. Mr Kinkel lectured the Parliament on its duties. 'Please see to it for God's sake,' he pleaded, 'that we don't have a crisis of confidence.'

The passion with which Pauline Green, leader of the Socialist Group, countered his arguments was startling. Mrs Green is a competent speaker but often a little wooden; not so yesterday. 'We're talking about a crisis of confidence that has not been created by us,' she reprimanded Mr Kinkel (eyebrows going like the clappers). 'What we have seen is stage-managed consultation.' She was received with rapturous applause.

Wilfried Martens, leader of the centre-right European People's Party, came not to bury Mr Santer but to drown him in a lake of lukewarm accolade. Mr Martens is part of Mr Santer's own political group, but once fancied himself for the job of President. He rambled through a chunk of the treaty and trailed off. Things looked bleak.

Gijs de Vries, the rather austere Dutchman who heads the Liberals, delivered an elegant elegy. He described Mr Santer as 'friendly, gentle, a very pleasant character'. Having damned him with faint praise, he said the Liberals would vote against. So did Laura Gonzalez Alvarez for the Communist bloc, staring straight at Mr Santer. By now the colour in his usually rubicund face was draining away.

Things looked up when Eolo Parodi added the support of Forza Italia and Jean-Claude Pasty pushed the European Democratic Alliance his way. But Claudia Roth for the Greens laid into him again (Mr Kinkel's eyebrows were now going like a bungee jumper): 'The thumbscrews are being put on. We're presented with a take-it-or-leave-it-decision,' she said. Mr Santer grinned weakly.

Bernard Tapie, one of the newly elected vedettes of the French radical party, delivered an elegant and pointed speech against. 'You can bury him with flowers if you want, but there have been more flowers thrown at him by those who'll vote against him than those who will vote for,' he said.

By the time the vote came, Mr Santer seemed ready to pass away. Jacques Delors at his best often resembles a troubled revolutionary priest. Mr Santer is a very jolly fellow by contrast, who tends to come over as a country solicitor: Jovial Jacques, full of joie de vivre. By three o'clock yesterday, he just looked glad to be alive.

Leading article, page 17

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