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EP Committee split over Busquin

Commissioner-designate for Research, Philippe Busquin, has been neither endorsed nor rejected in a letter from the Chair of the European Parliament Committee which held his hearing on 1 September, owing to divisions within the Committee. With Busquin's answers on research matt...
Commissioner-designate for Research, Philippe Busquin, has been neither endorsed nor rejected in a letter from the Chair of the European Parliament Committee which held his hearing on 1 September, owing to divisions within the Committee. With Busquin's answers on research matters generally received positively, much of the division stems from repeated questioning on his role in Belgium's Parti Socialiste, which many Members and observers believe to be irrelevant to his position as a Commissioner, and, furthermore an internal Belgian issue. Given that the Parliament cannot vote formally on individual nominees, it still seems likely that the entire Commission-designate, with Mr Busquin in the research portfolio, will be approved on 15 September.

In a letter addressed to the President of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, the Chair of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy, Carlos Westendorp, said that he could not provide a clear-cut answer 'due to the split positions within the Committee'. Although a vote was not taken owing to the rules of procedure, Mr Westendorp summed up the position of the Committee by saying that while 'many Members doubt Mr Busquin's capabilities, many others consider Mr Busquin would be a competent Commissioner.'

On research questions, Mr Busquin was 'positively received' by members who nevertheless agreed 'on the need for a close monitoring of Mr Busquin's future activities'.

Particular attention was drawn to Mr Busquin's willingness to involve the European Parliament closely in discussions for the Sixth Framework Programme (due to start early in 2000), and his intention to account for the enlargement issue in FP6, as well as in projects within the Fifth Framework Programme.

Mr Busquin's acknowledgement of the need to improve communication between the Commission's Joint Research Centre and the Parliament, and the benefits of encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises and southern regions to participate in more research projects was also well received. The Committee also welcomed Mr Busquin's support for a European patent and his expressed commitment to a better protection of intellectual property rights.

Some members felt that Mr Busquin's answers were lacking in detail, particularly over technical matters. However Mr Busquin's intention to develop a better knowledge and experience of the Community's research policy instruments was appreciated, and Mr Westendorp reported: 'Most members recognised Mr Busquin's human qualities and appreciated that the nominee Commissioner had to face difficult questions about technically complicated matters with which he had had to familiarise himself in a very short time.'

Unlike other nominee Commissioners, Mr Busquin was only questioned by one Committee, and it was therefore felt that 'the time available to allow Members to put their questions was better.' However many Members complained that too much time was taken up with questions concerning Mr Busquin's role in scandals affecting the Belgian Parti Socialiste (French-speaking Socialist Party) which they considered 'totally inappropriate, unfair, and leading to a process of harassment'. These members accepted that Mr Busquin was not personally responsible in these matters - indeed had shown himself capable of redressing the situation in the party he has led since 1992 - and pointed to Mr Busquin's 'personal honesty' in respect of his commitment to resign if any evidence or charge appeared that implicates him.

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