Paul van Buitenen says nothing has changed
Neil Kinnock insisted reforms were on track
27 August 2002: Brussels whistleblower quits in despair
A European official whose whistle-blowing revelations sparked the resignation of the entire European Commission has quit, after declaring that nothing has changed.
Paul van Buitenen says he is returning to his native Netherlands because the pressure in Brussels became too great to bear. In 1999, he went public with details of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power in the commission. The entire team of 20 commissioners, headed by then president Jacques Santer, resigned in a symbolic gesture to demonstrate their commitment to cleaning up the commission’s act. But Mr Van Buitenen says that, three years on, it is business as usual. “Despite everything, I can’t see any change in Brussels,” he said.
The clean-up operation has been headed by the UK’s Neil Kinnock, administration commissioner and a commission vice-president. But as long ago as March 2000 Mr Van Buitenen cast doubt on whether the reforms would achieve anything. “(Mr Kinnock) has drawn up a nice reform plan which looks right but he does not tackle the people who committed the irregularities,” he said at the time. “They have been confirmed in their jobs or even promoted.”
Confidence in the commission’s inner purging was knocked again earlier this year, when another whistleblower, chief accountant Marta Andreasen, was forced from her job. She had tried to highlight problems in the commission’s budget, which she insisted was running out of control amid “shambolic” control systems. She was removed from her post after refusing to sign off last year’s accounts. She told the BBC this month that the computer system on which the transactions were processed was “incoherent, insecure and allows no audit trail.” The lack of security, she warned, “gives big room for fraud” – and makes tracking it almost impossible.
Mr Van Buitenen, an assistant auditor at the time of his revelations, told the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that the treatment of Ms Andreasen was the last straw for him. He says he was similarly ostracised after making his own stand, being moved to a lower position in Luxembourg on half his original salary. He has worked for the commission since 1990.
Mr Kinnock’s office has insisted that progress is being made on tackling fraud.