Auteur: | By Teresa Küchler
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The European Commission has called for the suspension of EU pension rights for former French prime minister and EU commissioner, Edith Cresson, suspected of fraud, forgery and abuse of confidence during her time as commissioner in the late nineties.
On Wednesday (9 November), Mrs Cresson appeared before the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ), in a first hearing about irregularities of staff recruitments and payments during her 1994-1999 tenure as EU commissioner for education and research.
If found guilty, the European Commission is likely to strip Cresson of her generous EU pension and other benefits entitled to ex-commissioners.
A conclusion from the ECJ is expected on 23 February 2006.
While in charge of the education and research portfolios in the commission, Edith Cresson appointed her dentist and friend Rene Berthelot as a highly-paid EU adviser on HIV, a subject about which he apparently knew little.
He received over €150,000 for two years' work, during which time he produced a total of 24 pages of notes.
A Belgian court had earlier dropped the embezzlement charges against Mrs Cresson due to lack of evidence, but the commission, after pursuing an investigation, referred the case to the European Court of Justice to determine whether Mrs Cresson acted in breach of article 213 of the EC treaty on "favouritism" and "gross negligence".
"The case has become a disciplinary act rather than a criminal case," a spokesperson for the ECJ told the EUobserver, while a spokesperson from the commission denied giving any comments claiming the process was still ongoing.
Made way for code of conduct
Mrs Cresson, now 71, has denied the allegations claiming they are politically motivated and turn her into a media scapegoat.
In her defence statement to the Luxembourg court on Wednesday, she says she has been facing "real war machinery" out of proportion to the misconduct she is charged of.
She accuses the commission of being pressured by certain members of parliament, undermining its obligation to be impartial.
Mrs Cresson also states that at the time of the alleged acts of favouritism, there were no written regulations surrounding recruitment of staff.
Following the Cresson case in 1999, which triggered the collapse of the Jacques Santer commission, a new commission under Romano Prodi introduced a "code of conduct" for the appointment of top jobs in the EU bodies.
The code aims to prevent charges of nepotism, abuse of power, fraud or abuse of staff privileges.
The code includes an obligation for commissioners to declare their financial interests and assets, as well as any connections to recruits, special interests aside from their commission post and information on their spouses' occupations.