Prodi vows to reform executive EU panel

He unveils new members of commission sullied by corruption, cronyism

July 10, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS -- Western Europe got its closest thing yet to a supranational government yesterday, as former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi unveiled a 20-member European Commission whose most immediate task will be living down the cronyism and questionable incompetence of its predecessor.

The incoming executive for the 15-nation European Union, the world's largest trade bloc, will face daunting tasks. Among them: managing increasingly testy economic relations with the United States, deciding Europe's role in rebuilding Kosovo and expanding the EU eastward into the former Soviet bloc.

U.S. officials' attention quickly focused on the person Prodi, the incoming commission president, has chosen for one of the commission's most important portfolios: international trade.

He is Pascal Lamy, 51, a French Socialist, who represents the nation and political camp that to many on the opposite side of the Atlantic epitomize protectionism.

It is an open secret at EC headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, that personal relations between Lamy's predecessor, Leon Brittan, and U.S. Special Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky had become so poor that the two communicated in writing. The appointment of Lamy, a fluent English speaker, should facilitate a fresh start.

Most important, the Frenchman, who had been working at the newly privatized Credit Lyonnais bank, will represent the EU at negotiations scheduled to open in the United States at the end of the year on further liberalization in international commerce.

"There should be a high old time out there in Seattle," a Brussels-based diplomat quipped, anticipating that Lamy will espouse existing European policies the Clinton administration denounces as rank protectionism.

The previous commission resigned in March en masse after an independent probe unearthed numerous examples of mismanagement and corruption.

Prodi, 59, has promised a cultural revolution to prove to Europeans that the EU is working for their benefit. He has also made it clear that officials whose honesty or ability are impugned will be expected to resign if asked.

The commission must be approved formally by the European Parliament, and investiture is scheduled for Sept. 15.

Pub Date: 7/10/99

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