Philippe Busquin

September 17, 1999

For a physicist and Belgian politician, Philippe Busquin, confirmed as European commissioner for research on Wednesday, seems to have a knack for creating a stir.

In 1995, he surprised everyone by leading the Belgian Socialist Party to a respectable performance in a general election, in spite of a series of financial scandals involving the party.

Then a run-of-the-mill working party on tax that he chaired for the European Socialists came up with proposals for minimum tax rates on corporations and savings and the idea that "direct tax coordination had to be on the agenda to avoid tax competition".

This caused major headaches for the British chancellor Gordon Brown, who had reassured businesses that tax coordination was way off the agenda.

Finally, Busquin threatened the future of the new European Commission by carrying a whiff of scandal when the new commission was supposed to be whiter than white.

Born in Feluy, Belgium, Busquin took a degree in physics at the Free University of Brussels in 1962, followed by a philosophy qualification and postgraduate studies on the environment.

He was an assistant lecturer in physics in the faculty of medicine at the Free University and lectured at the Nivelles teachers' training college until 1977, when he began his career in politics.

First an ordinary member for the province of Hainaut, he worked his way up through the house of representatives.

He became president of the Socialist Party in 1992, vice-president of the European Socialist Party between 1995 and 1997, and was elected to the European Parliament in June 1999, just a month before being picked for the commission.

As head of the European Union's quality of life programme, he identified Britain as the unhappiest country in the union.

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