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Cresson Resigns After Damning Fraud Report

The European Union's embattled research commissioner, Edith Cresson, submitted her resignation yesterday along with the other 19 EU commissioners in the wake of a report by a European Parliament investigative panel that alleged cronyism and mismanagement in the EU's executive body. The panel singled out Cresson for the harshest criticism. Although some of the commissioners--all of whom are political appointees--may be renamed to their positions by their respective governments, sources in Brussels said it was "highly unlikely" that the French government would restore Cresson to her post.

The commission's mass resignation--roughly equivalent to the entire U.S. federal Cabinet stepping down at once--comes just a month after the EU's science directorate, known as DGXII, formally launched its new 4-year, $17.6 billion research program, called Framework 5. DGXII officials say it is still unclear exactly what impact, if any, the resignation of the unpopular Cresson will have on the nascent program.

The European Parliament's 140-page report, issued yesterday by a five-person panel of independent experts, was scathing about Cresson's management of DGXII and the education directorate, DGXXII. It said that Cresson, a former French prime minister who has headed the directorates since early 1995, "failed to act in response to known, serious, and continuing irregularities over several years" in the 5-year, $700 million Leonardo da Vinci program to help fund vocational and professional training. Audits have accused an outside contractor appointed by the commission of defrauding the program's technical assistance office of millions of dollars. Cresson also was criticized for helping a French friend with dubious qualifications gain contracts to work for DGXII and, later, the EU's Joint Research Centre. However, yesterday's report said that no commissioner "was directly and personally involved" in fraud or received money personally. Cresson, who did not comment today, had earlier denied being aware of any fraud.

In the wake of the resignations, officials in Brussels are speculating that an interim commissioner might be named to head DGXII until the new commission is chosen. One Brussels insider says Swedish officials have expressed an interest in the science directorate; another source says that Portugal's research minister, José Mariano Gago, might be considered for the permanent position. But, says another source, "it's too early to even speculate."