Kinnock ousts French in Brussels shake-up

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The Independent Online
FRANCE'S 40-year grip on one of the European Union's most powerful administrative baronies was ended yesterday as part of a package of reforms which provoked accusations of a British takeover of Brussels.

In one of his first acts as European Commission vice-president in charge of reform, Neil Kinnock embarked on a big shake-up of the EU bureaucracy, declaring an end "to the convention of attaching national flags to senior positions".

The decision to move the director-general in charge of agriculture, Guy Legras, marks the end of French dominance of the big-spending farm portfolio, stretching back to 1958.

Although the job will be advertised, senior sources made clear that it would not go to another French candidate.

Mr Kinnock also won agreement from his 19 follow commissioners yesterday to scrap the right to concessions offered by the Belgian government, including tax-free tobacco, petrol and alcohol. But the commissioners' generous living allowances will remain.

The administrative shake-up has led to accusations that Romano Prodi, the new president, has shifted the balance in the Commission away from French-speakers. The French newspaper Liberation hit out at the "galloping Anglophilia" of Mr Prodi, claiming that the Commission was becoming "an annexe of the Foreign Office".

A list published yesterday of top administrators in Brussels ranked Britain with the highest number at seven - one more than France. The statistics contain two particular blows to the French: the redeployment of the agriculture director-general, and steps to achieve the compulsory retirement of one of his colleagues, Philippe Soubestre. The arrival of another Briton, Jonathan Faull, in the press and communication service is also seen as a sign of Anglophone domination. But one Commission source dismissed French complaints as "xenophobia and paranoia".

Under the reforms, designed to eliminate nationality as the central factor in appointments, senior officials will be moved periodically and, by 2002, no director-general will have been in place for more than seven years.

However, the Commission remains committed to keeping a balance of nationalities in key posts. Mr Kinnock said: "It is possible to maintain a geographical balance in the proportion of people from different member states, on the basis of merit." But he did not explain how this would be done or whether talented people would be barred from jobs.

Who Has The Top Eu Jobs

Britain (7): Environment, press, internal market, consumer protection, justice, overseas aid, translation. France (6): Justice, external affairs, transport, computers, Eurostat, budget.

Germany (5): Competition, enterprise, personnel/ administration, trade, enlargement. Italy (2): Economy/finance, financial control. Denmark (2): Fisheries, anti-fraud office. Luxembourg (2): Regions, publications. Spain (2): Energy/transport, enlargement. Austria (1): Research. Belgium (1): Tax/Customs. Netherlands (1): Secretary-general. Greece (1): Education/culture. Sweden (1): Social affairs. Finland (1): Research.