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24/04/2003 | Whistle-Blower Gives Lesson About Politics and Power

Martin Edwin Andersen

 

It's hard to feel sympathy for socialist Edith Cresson, France's former prime minister, recently indicted by a Belgian court on corruption charges dating to her time as a commissioner of the European Union (EU). Cresson, who once famously claimed that one in four Englishmen is gay, now is the central figure in a landmark case in which this pal of the late president François Mitterrand (himself a man of famously elastic principles who called her "my little soldier"), is accused of counterfeiting and of personally benefiting from EU contracts.

The charges include that Cresson arranged to have her dentist, a close personal friend, brought on as a well-paid but largely no-show adviser to the EU on HIV/AIDS, a subject about which he knew virtually nothing. If convicted, Cresson faces up to five years in jail.

When the scandal broke in 1999, it was responsible for the collapse of the EU's 20-member executive office, a welter of often patronage-oriented fiefdoms whose reported motto appeared to come right out of Chicago's machine politics: "Where's mine?" The man who blew the whistle on the alleged internal fraud and corruption was EU Assistant Auditor Paul van Buitenen. Though later vindicated by subsequent events, the Dutch Euro-servant was suspended from his job, faced disciplinary action and had his salary reduced by half. As van Buitenen noted in his book, Blowing the Whistle, it was his family and strong religious faith that sustained him through difficult times.

The Cresson case, van Buitenen tells the watchers, provides an important lesson that needs to be learned: "Politics and power are businesses that need control and transparency. Responsible whistle-blowing will help establish such a new climate."

Martin Edwin Andersen is a reporter for Insight.

Insight Magazine (Estados Unidos)

 


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