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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
EU boss defiant over key official
European Commission President-designate Jose Manuel Durao Barroso
Barroso's skills as a consensus politician are being tested
The incoming head of the European Commission has defended the nomination of a conservative Catholic Italian as justice commissioner, rejected by MEPs.

Commission President-designate Jose Manuel Barroso said he was confident in his team, including Rocco Buttiglione.

Earlier, the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee rejected Mr Buttiglione, who had told MEPs last week he thought homosexuality a sin.

The justice commissioner oversees the rights of women and gays.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi blamed Italian leftists for Monday's vote against Mr Buttiglione.

He described it as a "dreadful start" for the new session of the European Parliament.

Parliament scrutiny

Mr Barroso said he would await the full parliament's view of the issue on 21 October.

He insisted that his commission would be liberal on matters of sexual orientation and would extend that tolerance to others who held different views.

"Mr Barroso maintains his confidence in the whole team, which of course includes Mr Buttiglione," said spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde.

Rocco Buttiglione
Buttiglione: A devout Catholic close to the Vatican

The committee's vote is not binding, as the parliament does not have the power to reject individual commissioners.

Liberal MEPs had also objected to Mr Buttiglione's remarks that the purpose of marriage was for women to have children.

Leftists pleased

The rejection of Mr Buttiglione was hailed by Italy's left-wing opposition.

"This is just the latest confirmation of the lack of credibility Italy is subject to in the European institutions because of choices made by Berlusconi," said former Industry Minister Pierluigi Bersani, a member of the Democrats of the Left.

Sergio Lo Giudice, president of the Italian gay rights group Arcigay, said the vote showed the EU's strong commitment to human rights, including those of gay people.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Anyone with such extreme views is unfit for public office
John M, Lyne Meads, UK

Observers say the move is an embarrassing setback for the new commission, which is due to take office on 1 November.

The Civil Liberties Committee voted 27 to 26 against the appointment of Mr Buttiglione, the European affairs minister in Mr Berlusconi's government.

They then voted 28 to 25 against Mr Buttiglione's re-appointment to another post within the commission.

However, the European Parliament can only endorse or reject the entire 25-strong team when it votes on 27 October.

Mr Barroso plans to hold talks with the parliamentary leaders before then, on 21 October.

'Crude propaganda'

Mr Berlusconi said the committee's vote "reflects the crude propagandist nature of the personal arguments put forward by the leftist faction of Italy's parliamentary delegation".

The vote smacked of "fundamentalism if not obscurantism," because it called into "question the freedom of conscience and opinion of a Catholic commissioner, contesting the distinction he makes between morality and the law", the Italian prime minister added.

German conservative MEP Ewa Klamt said the vote against Mr Buttiglione was "discrimination against a man who has a personal religious belief".

"He made it very clear there should be no discrimination for anyone, not for homosexuality, not for race or for religion," she said.




SEE ALSO:
EU panel opposes justice nominee
11 Oct 04  |  Europe
At-a-glance: EU commissioners
08 Oct 04  |  Europe
What does an EU commissioner do?
23 Jul 04  |  Europe


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