Santer shows his EU claws

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The Independent Online
Brussels - Jacques Santer, President of the new European Commission, hit his first problem yesterday before he had officially started, writes Andrew Marshall. The Commission has to be approved by the European Parliament, but the assembly is kickin g up rough over the abilities - or lack of them - of five members.

The President held an emergency meeting of the 20-member Commission in Strasbourg, where parliament is meeting. Today he is likely to offer concessions to parliament to gain its approval in a vote tomorrow.

Parliamentary hearings were held to consider whether nominated Commissioners were suitable for their jobs. The five attracting criticism were Yves-Thibault de Silguy (France), Erkki Liikanen (Finland), Ritt Bjerregaard (Denmark), Anita Gradin (Sweden) and Ireland's Padraig Flynn. All, bar Mr Flynn, are new. Mr Flynn was attacked for his lack of commitment to sex equality, part of his portfolio. The others were criticised for not knowing their subjects, or failing to take account of parliament's role.

The concessions are likely to be more symbolic than real, but that will not stop parliament from claiming a victory. Mr Santer is likely to pledge to take a greater role in sex equality, as well as development and human rights, areas where parliament wasconcerned that there was insufficient control. But he is not expected to climb down over sensitive issues of parliamentary procedural rights.

Parliament is highly unlikely to withhold approval of the new Commission, a right gained in the Maastricht treaty. It does not have the right to vote down individual members, though it may seek that when EU states meet next year to review rules.

Parliament officials said it was necessary to give the Commission a rough ride when first using the powers. Commission officials responded, however, that it was equally important for Mr Santer not to appear weak.