Overview: Europe’s whistle blower

Paul van Buitenen is Europe’s original whistle blower – the man who triggered
the resignation of 20 European commissioners in 1999. Now an MEP, he’s tired of
it all and believes he’s making no progress on cleaning up the EU and. From
press statements, it seems he is ready to given it all up and stand down at the
next European elections.

What’s happened

What hasn’t happened to Paul van Buitenen? In 1998, while working as an
official in the EU’s financial control directorate, he blew the whistle on
corruption, the abuse of power and cronyism. It ended the career of French
commissioner Edith Cresson and prompted the whole commission, led by European
president Jacques Santer, to resign in a symbolic act intended to represent the
commission’s commitment to purging itself of troubles.

Van Buitenen was suspended, placed on half pay and placed before a
discplinary hearing before finally being allowed back to work. He gave up though
in 2002 in another fit of despair, returning to his native Netherlands where he
turned to politics and finally returned to the European Parliament in 2004 as a
Green MEP.

He has continued his whistle blowing. In 2005 he raised questions over the
conduct of commissioner Frits Bolkestein and last year he exposed the abuse of
expenses by EU staff.

But he believes it has all been to no avail, that his actions have largely
been ignored and that the fundamental changes required to clean up EU finances
once and for all have not been pursued.

In short, he has reached the end of his tether and in a monumental grump
threatened to stand down and give up on being an MEP as as bad job. He told
Accountancy Age that he could give up on the freedoms of being a
parliamentarian and go back to being a civil servant at the commission where,
once again, his hands will be tied over what he can and can’t say in public.

What will happen?

Will he stay or will he go? Van Buitenen still has the final decision to make
but it’s likely that the Accountancy Age readers who voted him their
personality of the year in 1999 would not want the man to turn his back on
exposing what has been at times some pretty ropey financial management.

In many senses he is in the best possible place ­ even if he thinks he has
been unsuccessful. Though some politicians might like to see the back of him,
institutions like the EU need difficult people like van Buitenen to combat
complacency and generally prove an irritant to all those who would wish for a
little less scrutiny.

It will be sad day if he goes.

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