THE CRISIS into which the European Union is plunged today as its entire Commission resigns after a damning report held it responsible for a mountain of cronyism, fraud and corruption is unprecedented.

But it must be a turning point in the way the 15-nation EU is run.

For what is most telling about all this is that the charges of slack administration, buck-passing and favouritism within the EU's powerful executive and the graft and plunder this unleashed beneath are not exactly shock revelations about the set-up.

Rather, in the eyes of many, they are characteristic of "Europe" and typical of what happens when a huge, unwieldy organisation is allowed to operate with too little accountability in its structure.

It may be encouraging that this departure has come about by the European Parliament tilting at the hitherto mighty 20-member Commission of governmental appointees.

But the system must be strengthened so that, in future, the powers of the unelected Commission as the EU's executive and policy drafter are controlled by much greater answerability to MEPs.

Then, much more in line with the Westminster model of government, a system of checks and balances can be in place to curb excessive powers being put in the hands of the EU's officials .

For that, surely, was at the root of this crisis - and was clearly expressed in Commission president Jacques Santer's anger with the European Parliament when, three months ago, MEPs flexed their muscles and refused to approve the EU's accounts amid rumours of fraud and mismanagement involving billions. He effectively dared them to censure the Commission and invited just that when a brave Dutch official working for the Commission then leaked reports suggesting that not only was fraud and mismanagement widespread, but also that it was being covered up.

Parliament then lost its nerve, rescuing the Commission from potential vote-of-confidence downfall with the compromise of an inquiry into the allegations that, it was believed, would quietly sidetrack the issue into limbo.

The opposite has happened and the inquiry's damning findings have brought down the whole Commission - and left the EU rudderless. But this act of wholesale resignations must not be a pantomime, with the "innocent" Commissioners being reappointed and the system then carrying on as before.

This must be the opportunity for the European Parliament to place itself at the top of the power structure and for a new Commission to be appointed on strict terms that restrict its capacity to ever behave with the arrogance and irresponsibility of those whose have today quite rightly been brought down by it today.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.