'Anti-Conservative Bias' Seen as EU Chief Withdraws Nominees

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Paris, France (CNSNews.com) - The European Union faced a crisis on Wednesday as the new president of the executive European Commission withdrew his proposed team of commissioners amid an uproar over one nominee's conservative views.

Jose Manuel Barroso took the step because Liberal, Socialist and Green Party members of the European Parliament (E.P.) were likely to have vetoed his team, angered by Italian nominee Rocco Buttiglione's views on homosexuality and women's roles.

The new commission overseeing the 25-nation E.U. was due to take over on Nov. 1, but outgoing President Romano Prodi will now remain in place, heading a caretaker commission until Barroso gains approval for a reshuffled team.

During confirmation hearings before an E.P. committee, Buttiglione, a devout Catholic, said he believed that homosexuality was a sin and the traditional role for women was to have children and receive the protection of men. He also criticized single motherhood.

Buttiglione said, however, that his views would not impact his political activities as commissioner for justice.

The Socialists and other left-leaning groups objected to giving the justice portfolio to a nominee holding opinions they disagree with on homosexuality and women's rights.

Jas Gawronski, an Italian member of the E.P. from the EPP-ED center-right political group, said that it was wrong to vote against Buttiglione "just because he said the truth about his beliefs and his moral principles."

Gawronski said Italian left-wingers were using the nominee's views as a pretext to oppose Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a conservative, who had nominated Buttiglione.

"They put up all the other leftist parties from the other countries to vote against Buttiglione," Gawronski said.

Roger Kiska, staff counsel for the European Center for Law and Justice in Strasbourg, France, agreed that Buttiglione was a victim of discrimination.

Buttiglione had his "rights taken from him in this vote because these were personal beliefs that had nothing to do with his position in the commission," said Kiska.

"This is the first time in maybe one hundred years that religion has been used this way," Kiska said.

Kiska said he believed that the Buttiglione affair had exposed an anti-conservative bias.

"[In the confirmation hearings] there was an agenda set, and the questions were prepared to pick out his more controversial points," Kiska said.

"As an honest man he would have to say that according to his faith and his beliefs, homosexuality is a sin and he believed the family is a nuclear family and both parents should be involved in the upbringing of children," Kiska added.

Kiska said he was surprised at the controversy because he thought the parliament would be less liberal since this year's enlargement, which brought into the E.U. more traditional Protestant and Catholic countries in the east.

"By and large, the enlargement politicians and parliamentarians and the conservatives were defending Buttiglione," said Kiska.

The president's 25-member commission team has to be approved as a group by the E.P., and although negotiations were undertaken to ask Italy to change its nomination or to give Buttiglione another commission, Barroso chose to withdraw the whole team to avoid an unprecedented veto.

Analysts also say that the members of the E.P. are using the controversy over Buttiglione as an opportunity to flex their muscles and to show that they have real power beyond just rubber-stamping the commission's decisions.

The last-minute withdrawal of the new team of commissioners has created a crisis as European leaders prepare to sign their first constitution on Oct. 29, in Rome.

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