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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 05:28 GMT 06:28 UK
European press review

Today's papers hotly debate the incoming European Commission president's decision to back down on his choice of commissioners in the face of criticism from the EU's parliament.

While many papers see the move as a boost for democracy in the EU, others are worried that the EU's designated leader may have been dealt a fatal blow.

'Historic'

In Germany, Die Welt hails Mr Barroso's retreat as a victory for the European Parliament.

"This is an important victory for parliamentarianism, which is so weak in the EU," the paper says.

A new era has begun
Italy's Europa

The paper praises MEPs for interrupting EU member states' "wheeling and dealing" over the shape of the European Commission, but bemoans the fact there was no vote.

"Parliament has been robbed of its moment of triumph," it complains.

Austria's Der Standard hopes the parliament's "historic" show of strength will convince people of the value of voting in European elections.

"Far too few voted in June," it says, "but those who did will now forever remember why."

Hungary's Nepszabadsag believes Mr Barroso's climb-down shows that the EU's parliament has finally come of age.

"Amidst all the yelling,", it says, "the European Parliament woke up to find it had lost its milk teeth, and had grown from a much-patronised talking shop into a genuine European institution".

In Italy, Europa uses similar metaphor, describing the whole fracas as "a crisis that will make the union grow up".

"With the assertion of the role of the democratically elected parliament over the diktat of the national governments," the paper says, "a new era has begun."

Tolerance?

While agreeing that the climb-down was a defeat for Mr Barroso and national governments, Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung questions the idea that the parliament has scored a victory.

"It was not to the credit of Europe's diversity and tolerance that a candidate was rejected because of his religious beliefs," it says, in a reference to Italy's Rocco Buttiglione, who was criticised for his views on women and homosexuals .

This was no ideological vendetta, and even less one against Christianity
Spain's El Pais

However, France's Liberation believes this misses the point of why MEPs disliked Mr Buttiglione's nomination.

"It was not their religious tenor, but rather his very political and authoritarian interpretation of the role of commissioner," the paper argues.

The paper adds that Mr Barroso was rightly punished for trying to ride rough-shod over the supposedly "inferior" European Parliament.

"The Strasbourg deputies have... laid a foundation stone for the future," it believes.

In Spain, El Pais agrees, saying the crisis shows the EU is "alive and kicking".

"Democracy and the institution that best represents it have emerged strengthened," the paper says. "There can be no democracy without checks and balances, and all the parliament did was to exercise its power".

The paper also rejects accusations that it was Mr Buttiglione's religion that was the target of MEPs' ire.

"This was no ideological vendetta, and even less one against Christianity," the paper believes.

Austria's Die Presse also thinks the dispute has brought Europe closer to what the paper calls "a democratically organised community of states".

Mr Barroso, the paper says, simply had to back down when the parliament's justice committee's voted against Mr Buttiglione.

"Some - for example people thinking in strictly Catholic terms - may find this difficult to understand," it says, "but in reality it is just normal democratic procedure."

'Setback'

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung singles out Mr Barroso for criticism, saying he was unwise not to seek a face-saving way out before the scheduled vote.

"Now Barroso is severely damaged, even though he has not even taken office," it points out.

The Buttiglione affair has sunk the new commission
Italy's La Stampa

France's Le Figaro says Mr Barroso has thrown Europe into an "unprecedented crisis" by "capitulating" to MEPs, and will now have to pick up the pieces.

"His quest promises to be a difficult one," it predicts, "what with Italy and other countries with commissioners under fire giving little hint of any willingness to give in to the parliament's demands".

Spain's El Periodico calls Wednesday's events "a grave setback" for Jose Manuel Barroso.

The incoming commission president "misunderstood his role in the new European Union", the paper argues, and should have accepted the parliament's rejection of Mr Buttiglione.

"But Barroso made a point of standing by his commissioner," it notes, "to the extreme of associating himself with his untimely remarks".

In Mr Buttiglione's homeland, Italy's La Stampa is blunt in its assessment.

"The Buttiglione affair has sunk the new commission," it says.

'Mortifying'

L'Unita, meanwhile, is in a soul-searching mood, saying Italy "has nothing to be proud about" in this affair.

The paper accuses Rocco Buttiglione of "lacking the sensitivity to step down" of his own accord, and the Italian government of "remaining deaf to all appeals".

Both, it says, "have contributed towards writing of one of the most mortifying pages in the history of the European Union".

However, the paper sees a silver lining in the fact that the incumbent commission president will now stay in office for a little while longer.

"Thank God Romano Prodi is there," it exclaims. "After five years of hard work... he is being urgently recalled to save Europe's face - as well as Italy's."

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.





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