Leaked letter exposes ‘split’ in Kinnock camp

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol 7, No.13, 29.3.01, p1
Publication Date 29/03/2001
Content Type

Date: 29/03/01

By John Shelley

A LEAKED letter to European Commission Vice-President Neil Kinnock from his own chief civil servant has exposed deep divisions within the institution over the reform process.

In it, Administration Director-General Horst Reichenbach attacks Kinnock over accusations that officials failed to keep him properly informed about the renovation of the former Commission headquarters in Brussels.

A security investigation has been launched by the EU executive into how the letter came into the hands of a Communist MEP. European Voice has also obtained a copy of the document.

Kinnock - according to an early draft of a speech - planned to tell MEPs that officials had repeatedly failed to communicate timely and detailed information on developments at the Berlaymont HQ, which was gutted following the discovery of asbestos.

Reichenbach wrote: "We find this is a serious accusation and would therefore have expected to be informed of it by you or your cabinet directly at an earlier stage and in a different form. Moreover we would hope that you would allow your services time and opportunity to defence instead of first presenting these accusations to the European Parliament."

MEPs pounced on the apparent split in the Kinnock ranks.

"For a director-general to write in this way and in this tone to his own Commissioner beggars belief," said Dutch liberal MEP Michiel van Hulten. "What it shows is that there is tension between the Commission services and the Kinnock cabinet."

The letter was written last month, just before Kinnock was due to meet MEPs to discuss difficulties with the renovation of the Commission's former home. The Berlaymont was evacuated in 1991 because of the asbestos and is currently being rebuilt. But with costs spiralling, the project is not now expected to be finished until 2003.

After receiving the letter, which is also signed by DG Administration director Sipke Brouwer, Kinnock spoke to Reichenbach and cut the critical comments from his speech before he met MEPs for the closed-door meeting.

But parliamentarians say the tone of the note is of deep concern because it indicates a breakdown in communications between the two key players in the administrative reform process.

They say only a handful of high-ranking people would have had access to the letter before it was leaked to Communist Italian MEP Armando Cossutta.

"I can only assume that the letter was leaked by the people who wrote it," said Van Hulten. "I am worried that it's part of attempts to undermine the reform process."

Reichenbach and Kinnock are keen to play down the significance of the letter.

Philip Lowe, Kinnock's chief advisor, described it as perfectly normal and the "stock in trade" of internal communication.

"The reality is that whatever terms or with whatever urgency this note was written in the problems have been resolved," he added.

In a letter to German MEP Diemut Theato, president of the Parliament's budgetary control committee, Reichenbach confirmed the disagreement was cleared up before Kinnock gave his speech.

"Mr Kinnock and I came to a clear understanding over his concerns," he said. "At the same time we agreed on measures which will clear up those reservations."

A leaked letter to European Commission Vice-President Neil Kinnock from his own chief civil servant has exposed deep divisions within the institution over the reform process.

Subject Categories