Research chief faces acid test

September 17, 1999

The new research chief at the European Commission is facing a resignation call even before he has officially replaced disgraced commissioner Edith Cresson.

Philippe Busquin, who is expected to be sworn in this week along with other members of EC president Romano Prodi's new team, has been heavily criticised by some European Parliament research committee members.

Committee chairman Carlos Westendorp y Cabeza has written to parliament president Nicole Fontaine about a conflict between Mr Busquin's past political connections and his alleged scant knowledge of the research brief.

Some committee members grilled Mr Busquin over his links with the French-speaking Belgian Socialist Party, which is under investigation following claims that it took state cash for research that was never done. Others asked how he intended to familiarise himself more with the demands of his new job, in which he will preside over the EC's multi-billion pound Fifth Framework Programme for research funding.

Mr Busquin, a former assistant physics lecturer at the Free University of Brussels, denies links with the party's alleged activities.

Mr Westendorp y Cabeza rejected calls for a vote on Mr Busquin's position saying it was "against the spirit of the EC treaty". But he said many members "doubted both Mr Busquin's future capability to perform as a commissioner in charge of research and his leadership capacity" to restructure and reform the commission's research services.

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