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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Profile: Rocco Buttiglione
By Stephanie Holmes
BBC News website

Rocco Buttiglione
A good Catholic can be a good European, says Buttiglione

Rocco Buttiglione was Italy's surprise choice as the European Union's new commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security.

However his remarks on homosexuality and the role of women during a confirmation hearing ago sparked an institutional crisis which led to him withdrawing his candidacy.

A whole host of MEPs demanded that he be stripped of his portfolio, but Italy was outraged at the suggestion and the Vatican complained of a "new inquisition".

But Mr Buttiglione, while apologising for his expressions and the reaction they provoked, has refused to say sorry for his ideas.

Public or personal?

He appeared to be sticking firm to his principle that the personal and political can coexist while being at odds.

"The only thing I cannot do is to change my principles against my conscience for political convenience," he wrote in the last line of a letter to Mr Barroso.

The only thing I cannot do is to change my principles against my conscience for political convenience
Rocco Buttiglione

Mr Buttiglione is a philosopher-politician, a man equally at home giving an ethics seminar as discussing practical solutions to Europe's immigration issues.

The 56-year-old Christian Democrat has been Italy's European Affairs minister since 2001.

A father of four, he is a devoted, God-fearing Roman Catholic and a professor of political science in Rome.

He is considered to be one of the closest friends and counsellors of Pope John Paul II.

He has even written a book delving into the mind of the man who became the head of the Catholic Church.

Controversial convictions

During a three-hour grilling at the European Parliament by MEPs earlier this month, Mr Buttiglione's views on some of the topics in his new portfolio - including immigration and security - raised uneasy murmurings.

Rocco Buttiglione with photographers

"Many things may be considered immoral which should not be prohibited," he said as he was quizzed on his views of homosexuality.

"I may think that homosexuality is a sin, and this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime."

Yet a man who has often taken a conservative stance on many sensitive political issues - opposing artificial insemination and abortion - said there were some things the state should leave well alone.

"The state has no right to stick its nose into these things and nobody can be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation... this stands in the Charter of Human Rights, this stands in the Constitution and I have pledged to defend this constitution," he said.


On the subject of immigration, Mr Buttiglione also managed to get people hot under the collar.

I may be a nobody in Italy, but in Europe I will be someone
Rocco Buttiglione
Calling the situation a "humanitarian crisis", he defended his country's much-criticised decision to deport many of the thousands of would-be immigrants who arrive on its shores each year.

"This is not an expulsion. It is a refusal for entry at the border, which is in accordance with international law," he told his audience.

He has been a vocal supporter of Germany's and Italy's plans to set up processing centres in North Africa for people seeking asylum in the EU, although he stressed that the centres would provide humanitarian relief.

He also suggested that EU representatives could be sent out to the centres to advise those seeking asylum on the rights and to weed out fake applicants.

Heading to Brussels has always been Mr Buttiglione's ambition.

He is quoted as telling Italy's La Corriere della Sera newspaper that, "I may be a nobody in Italy, but in Europe I will be someone."

But it seems Mr Buttiglione's first taste of fame had an unpleasantly bitter aftertaste.

The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby
"Either the whole team gets the green light or the whole team is rejected out of hand"


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