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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
EU chief moves to shore up team
Rocco Buttiglione
Many Socialist MEPs want Mr Buttiglione's nomination withdrawn
The new head of the European Commission has moved to appease MEPs who are threatening to veto his team over a commissioner's anti-gay remarks.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he would personally take charge of human rights issues and cases of discrimination.

Such issues will not be the sole remit of controversial justice commissioner-designate Rocco Buttiglione from Italy.

Socialist MEPs and their allies are against Mr Buttiglione's appointment.

I deeply regret the difficulties and problems that have arisen
Rocco Buttiglione

Mr Buttiglione, a devout Catholic conservative close to the Vatican, voiced regret on Thursday over damaging comments he made about homosexuals and women two weeks ago.

"I deeply regret the difficulties and problems that have arisen", he said in a letter to Mr Barroso.

Controversy

During his confirmation hearing, Mr Buttiglione said he regarded homosexuality as a "sin" and that marriage existed to allow women to have children and the protection of a male.

European Commission President-designate Jose Manuel Durao Barroso
The new commission will be absolutely opposed to any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender, religious beliefs
Jose Manuel Barroso
EU Commission President
He was also reported as having said single mothers were not very good people.

In the letter, Mr Buttiglione said he still planned to take up the post but offered to step aside whenever "a conflict might arise between my conscience and my duty as commissioner".

MEPs have threatened to veto the whole 25-member Commission over the row, when they vote next Wednesday. They do not have the power to reject commissioners individually.

The leader of the powerful Socialist group, Martin Schulz, rejected the compromise, saying "this situation remains unacceptable".

His group was joined by the Greens, Communists and Independents.

Mr Barroso remained confident on Thursday, speaking after heated questioning by top MEPs.

"I'm very confident that we will get the support of a clear majority" in the EU assembly, he said.

Pressure on Barroso

Mr Barroso said he appreciated "the enormous importance parliament attaches to fundamental rights" and pledged to set up a panel of commissioners "to look into questions of fundamental rights and non-discrimination". Mr Buttiglione will still be on the panel.

"I am taking personal charge of co-ordinating our actions in this area," Mr Barroso said.

"The new commission will be absolutely opposed to any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender, or religious beliefs."

In his letter to Mr Barroso, Mr Buttiglione said "I did not intend in any way to offend the feelings of anybody".

His post would normally entail supervision of discrimination issues, including the rights of women and gays.

The 268-strong conservative European People's Party - the largest in parliament - firmly backs Mr Buttiglione.

But nearly half of all MEPs are believed to be against the Barroso commission if Mr Buttiglione is allowed to stay in his job - the 200-strong Socialists supported by the Greens, eurosceptics and other leftists.

The outcome could depend on the assembly's Liberal group, the third largest. They are seen as split on whether to accept Mr Buttiglione as justice commissioner.

MEPs have also criticised other nominees, including Laszlo Kovacs, Hungary's former foreign minister who is set to serve as energy commissioner; Dutch businesswoman Neelie Kroes, nominated as competition commissioner; Denmark's Mariann Fischer-Boel, picked for farm commissioner; and Latvia's Igrida Udre, nominated for taxation commissioner.




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Listen to Rocco Buttiglione's controversial views



FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
CNN Socialists: We may scupper EU team - 19 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Barroso stands by anti-gay aide - 37 hrs ago
TelegraphBarroso faces revolt - 37 hrs ago
ABCNEWS.com EU May Veto Panel Over Gay 'Sin' Remark - 39 hrs ago
Herald Tribune EU May Veto Panel Over Gay 'Sin' Remark - 39 hrs ago
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SEE ALSO:
Analysis: EU team a hard sell
21 Oct 04  |  Europe
EU Commission gets hi-tech home
21 Oct 04  |  Europe
EU panel opposes justice nominee
11 Oct 04  |  Europe
At-a-glance: EU commissioners
08 Oct 04  |  Europe


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