The news that industry commissioner Martin Bangemann has opted to jump ship has rubbed further salt into the already open wounds of the European Commission.
Bangemann has been placed on leave of absence after accepting a controversial job in the private sector. He announced last week that he was planning to join the board of Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica – a leader of the European telecommunications sector, which he had previously helped to regulate.
This move raised a storm of protest, with claims of a potential conflict of interest.
The row is a new public relations disaster for the European Commission, which is desperately trying to regain public confidence after it resigned en masse in March following a damning report on fraud and mismanagement in its ranks.
Bangemann told colleagues he had never intervened in Telefonica’s favour in violation of the EU treaty; that he would have no future dealings with the EU on Telefonica’s behalf; and that he would not use `specific information’ he obtained as a Commissioner in his new job.
A spokesman for Tony Blair said the UK Government deplored Bangemann’s action, which he said underlined the case for EU reform.
Pauline Green, leader of the European Parliament Socialist group, urged the Commission to sack him, calling Bangemann’s move `disgraceful’.
She added: `For their own dignity and self-respect, the other Commissioners should be saying to him: “There’s the door. Please go through it.”‘
The storm broke as Commission President-designate Romano Prodi, charged with reforming the Commission, puts the finishing touches to his new executive, expected to take over in September.
However, the existing executive, appearing to accept guarantees from Bangemann about his conduct, said it was not seeking any legal sanction against him.
In theory, the Commission could have asked the European Court of Justice to take away Bangemann’s pension rights – believed to be worth £60,000 per year – if it judged he had violated a provision in the EU treaty which says Commissioners have a duty to behave with `integrity and discretion’ over appointments or benefits received after leaving office.
Clearly the case for reform is pressing.
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