UK views crisis as opportunity to re-establish control

March 19, 1999

UK members of the European Parliament and academics involved in European education and training fear that Leonardo will inevitably be affected by the hiatus created by the resignation of the European Commission.

But both groups hope that the turmoil will change attitude in Europe for the better.

Maggie Woodrow, director of the European Access Network at Westminster University, said she would like to think that the crisis is an opportunity to get rid of not only the bureaucrats but also the bureaucracy. "Not only is submitting bids to Europe complicated and time-consuming but we are experiencing long delays in getting the results." She had just received a result expected back in September.

Juliet Lodge, director of the centre for European studies at Leeds University, said that ultimately education could benefit from the upheaval about to take place. "The changing relationship between parliament and the commission could well be to the advantage of education and to other sectors where there is a need for investment to be increased," Professor Lodge said.

Sue Waddington, MEP for Leicester and rapporteur for Leonardo, said she was "really angry and disappointed" at the difficulties that the programme was suffering because of the allegations of fraud by the technical assistance office, which administered it.

"They have now declared themselves bankrupt, and there will be a period of great uncertainty and lack of efficiency while the work they were supposed to be doing is undertaken by others," she said. "I'm very concerned about how it impacts on the programme."

Ms Waddington said she feared there would be a delay in launching the next Leonardo scheme, scheduled to run between 2000 and 2006. She was unhappy about the prospect of its being run by a contracted-out organisation in the same way as the ill-fated Leonardo 1 scheme.

"In my opinion, there has to be a completely new system of tendering or we have to monitor more efficiently in-house."

But getting back on track would be hampered by parliamentary work being put on hold for the forthcoming European elections, the summer recess, and the new parliament finding its feet, Ms Waddington said.

The commission's mass resignation was diverting attention from underlying problems of too much bureaucracy and too little transparency, Ms Waddington said, which meant that parliament did not know about Leonardo's difficulties in recent months and therefore could not plan changes.

"All this needs to be cleaned up, with far more democratic control over what's going on."

James Provan, MEP for South Downs West, believed the parliament would take "a very strong line" and seek the departure of some commissioners rather than allow them to continue until the end of the year. These included Edith Cresson.

"Without doubt, she must go. She has been shown by the committee of wise men to have been involved in all sorts of mismanagement and appointing personal friends who are not up to the job," Mr Provan said.

The parliament had always vetted the commission's spending, he said. "It is because the 1996 accounts were not approved that this crisis developed. The commission failed to come forward with any reasonable answer to questions that were asked, and parliament decided not to approve the accounts."

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