Leonardo ran with few checks

March 19, 1999

The THES examines fallout from the report that led EU commissioners to quit

Question marks hang over the Leonardo da Vinci initiative to promote youth vocational training in the European Union - at least in its present form - after its management was criticised by an independent committee investigating the European Commission and this week's resignation of the entire commission.

Edith Cresson, the commissioner responsible for research and education, and all the other commissioners have resigned but continue to act in a caretaker role pending decisions by member states about the future.

At the very least it seems inconceivable that Mrs Cresson will play any further part in the programme. This will be welcome news in the British government and academic circles involved in the UK operation of Leonardo, where criticism of her handling of her brief has been rife, if sotto voce, for some time.

Mrs Cresson made little secret of her disdain for her duties in Brussels. To this extent, a new education commissioner can only improve matters.

The independent report found that many aspects of Leonardo were little more than a cover for fraud, mismanagement, nepotism and deception. Exceptionally, the scheme's management was contracted to a private company, Agenor, whose employees' family members were paid huge salaries out of the EU budget.

Mrs Cresson seems to have been indifferent when irregularities were pointed out. The report says she "failed to act in response to known serious and continuing irregularities over several years and bears serious responsibility for having failed, though in full possession of the facts, to inform the president of the commission and through him the European Parliament of the problems".

Leonardo was launched in 1995 with a four-year budget equivalent to Pounds 434 million to help young people in vocational training or work, graduate students, teachers and trainers.

The commission would fund up to 75 per cent of the cost of transnational pilot projects up to Pounds 70,000 a year and pay up to Pounds 3,500 per beneficiary on transnational placement and exchange schemes.

EU officials have insisted that Leonardo's fundamental objectives are valid and that the programme will continue. But it was not denied that vast changes in the management structure will have to be made.

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