French Commissioner in the spotlight
By Honor Mahony
Nigel Farage, a British eurosceptic MEP, caused a furore in the European Parliament on Thursday (18 November) by launching a strong attack on the French Commissioner, Jacques Barrot.
Mr Farage, who belongs to the UK Independence Party, said that Mr Barrot should not be allowed to be a commissioner alleging he received an eight month suspended sentence in 2000 for a funding scandal involving his political party.
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His comments about Mr Barrot caused immediate uproar among MEPs - drowning out remaining speakers' attempts to speak.
He also spoke out against the Estonian and Hungarian commissioners, Siim Kallas and Laszlo Kovacs, referring to their communist pasts; against the UK Commissioner Peter Mandelson and referred to allegations that Neelie Kroes, the Dutch Commissioner, had lied to the European Parliament.
Leaders of the other political groups were quick to defend Mr Barrot. Hans-Gert Pöttering, head of the centre-right EPP group, strongly praised the French Commissioner.
Francis Wurtz, who as leader of the United left comes from the other end of the political spectrum to Mr Barrot, also defended his "political adversary".
Referring to British football hooligans, liberal leader Graham Watson said "I fear we now have their representation here in parliament".
President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell asked whether Mr Farage wanted his comments struck from the minutes of the parliament so that he would not face "legal consequences".
But Mr Farage, who thought he had full parliamentary immunity, refused to retract his statements saying they were based on "substantial research".
It was unclear whether he did have immunity as he was speaking in Strasbourg on French soil - under French law no reference is allowed to be made to the case in public after Mr Barrot came under a presidential amnesty.
Mr Farage's party later released a statement saying "many French MEPs were not aware of the conviction, as in compliance with French law it was totally censored from the French media".
The brief but fiery exchange came just before a vote by MEPs on the new Commission - which eventually saw it approved with 66% of the votes cast.