Richard North, 01/10/2004  

I had hoped not to have to write about Nickel Neelie Kroes for a little while but it seems that the (former) Board Lady is in trouble again. My goodness, they have not even become Commissioners properly. What will it be like in the next five years?

Ms Kroes was attacked during the hearing by her compatriot Paul van Buitenen, the erstwhile whistleblower who had helped to bring the Santer Commission to the resignation point and now an MEP. He accused her of accepting money and putting it into a slush fund. She rejected the accusations and he could not produce any direct proof. Still, he is not going to leave the subject alone. Luckily the three main groupings said that they were satisfied with Ms Kroes’s performance.

They were not, as we have already reported, quite so satisfied with the Greek Stavros Dimas who is taking on the Environment portfolio. There were a few problems with some of the other new Commissioners. Danuta Hübner, for instance, has insisted that the EU’s cohesion will suffer if the budget will be capped at 1 per cent. There was always going to be a problem if the Commissioner for Regional Policy was going to be from one of the new member states. They are unlikely to be satisfied with the meagre pickings they have been allowed so far.

Vladimir Spidla said that he thought that the EC Gender Institute – what an extraordinary concept that is – should be located in one of the new states, though it is not clear why or, indeed, why there should be such an institution. But he refused to answer any questions on the treatment of women in Turkey, possibly because Turkey is not yet a member nor likely to be for a while.

Other questioning sessions seem to have gone as expected. No big surprises, not little ones either.

Meanwhile, the incoming Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel has also been having financial difficulties. It transpires that her replies had been incomplete when she submitted a list of her financial interests to the Danish Parliament. Just as she seems to have forgotten that her husband owns a large farm and is the beneficiary of CAP funds, so it seems to have slipped her mind that she held shares in banking and sugar businesses. Apparently, she has now sold her sugar shares to avoid any conflict of interests, and in any case, the Danish Parliament cannot sanction people for not replying fully to a voluntary questionaire, especially not after they had gone to become EU Commissioners. As the bard said it: “It was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.”

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