Resignations may presage business reform

BRUSSELS — The unprecedented mass resignation of the European Commission on Tuesday has sparked hopes that a long-overdue overhaul of the E.U. executive’s procedures for dealing with industries — including entertainment — will take place.

Responding to the news, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said it provided “an opportunity to drive through root-and-branch reform” of the E.U. Meanwhile, discussion raged in other European capitals about how to resolve the crisis.

The E.U.’s 20-member executive panel made its decision after the issue of a devastating report by five independent experts that revealed fraud, mismanagement and nepotism at the heart of the E.U.’s administrative machine, as well as an almost total lack of accountability among its officials, up to the top.

Responsibility questioned

“It is becoming difficult to find anyone who has even the slightest sense of responsibility,” the report charged.

Although no one knows at this stage precisely what steps will be taken to clean up the commission’s act, nor which, if any of the commissioners will be returned to their posts, it is likely that all businesses, including film and TV companies, will benefit in the long run.

The resignation of the panelists, under severe pressure from the European Parliament, marks a significant shift in the balance of power in the E.U., with Parliament members asserting their growing importance three months before a new Parliament is elected by E.U. citizens.

The main targets of the report were former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, who heads education and research, and Jacques Santer, commission president, while Portuegese commissioner Joao de Deus Pinheiro, who served as culture chief 1990-95 and is now head of development issues, was censured for appointing his brother-in-law as an adviser.

Neither of the two most important officials dealing with the film and TV industry were singled out for individual criticism, but both Marcelino Oreja (culture) and competition chief Karel Van Miert accepted collective responsibility with their colleagues and resigned over the alleged abuses catalogued in the report.

Report called unbalanced

Van Miert, who widely is expected to return to his post, reacted angrily to the report, claiming that it provided an unbalanced view of the commission’s record. “The departments that worked well have not been discussed or commissioners contacted, so it is unfair to pretend that everything here just derailed,” he said.

Like Spanish commissioner Oreja, Belgian Van Miert already has received the unofficial endorsement of his prime minister, so he is unlikely to go before the commission formally ends its term of office at the end of the year, leaving key decisions about entertainment business matters in firm hands.

Fears that the crisis will leave the day-to-day running of E.U. business in disarray may be exaggerated. E.U. member states have the sole responsibility for deciding whether to reinstate their commissioners or appoint new ones, and a decision is likely to be reached when E.U. heads of state meet Friday in Berlin.

Gallic pressure

France certainly will come under intense pressure from the European Parliament — and some member state governments — not to reinstate Edith Cresson as commissioner. She was heavily was criticized by the report for failure to investigate “known serious and continuing irregularities over several years” and for a “clear-cut case of favoritism.” Like her boss Santer, Cresson continued to claim Tuesday that she has done nothing wrong.

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