The famously dull corridors of power in Brussels suddenly sprang to life after the birth of the euro. It's getting personalby Bella Thomas / February 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
It may not have been pure coincidence. In the week after the euro was launched, the credibility of the European commission was called into question, as never before, by the European parliament. The parliament dared to “refuse discharge” to the commission’s 1996 budget. Edith Cresson of France and Manuel Marin of Spain (two of the 20 commissioners) were the main targets, but the vote amounted to an allegation of inefficiency-variously reported as fraud, corruption or simple mishandling-directed at the whole commission. The commission made the error of suspending the official who leaked the relevant documents to the parliament-Paul van Buitenen-which infuriated the parliament and served only to further the frenzy in the press pit in the crowded cellars of the commission building.
Rumours and accusations flew in all directions in the irresistible, febrile manner in which they do at such times: the commission was in possession of rifles, it gave money to its cronies… The press then turned to a line of attack well-oiled in Britain but less common in euroland: the relationship of politicians to their property and their wives.
Jacques Santer had come down to meet the press. He looks more dynamic in person than on the screen-fleshier, too. He expressed great pleasure at meeting the press in such a triumphant week (the euro had been born the day before). He dismissed the likelihood of a vote of censure with a combination of brusqueness, haughtiness and irony.
But then a timid correspondent took the microphone and caused the president to come out in a profound pink blush. It was alleged that Santer’s wife was improperly renting property to the commission. This was being examined in the courts; what did the president have to say? Santer’s mouth slipped ajar. His eyes looked confused. He stammered his surprise at the way this “is becoming very personal.” He then provided a precise description of the three properties he owned in Luxembourg-number of rooms, size of garden and so on. His wife, to his knowledge, owned no other properties. He added that he believed he was happily married.
This level of detail did the trick; the press withdrew. However, Santer may have rightly predicted that European politics will get more personal if transparency becomes a reality, as Santer himself assures us that it will. And it would do them much good. What many people mistrust most about Brussels is the perceived…