Barroso Battles to Avoid Veto | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 26.10.2004
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Barroso Battles to Avoid Veto

Incoming European Commission chief Jose Barroso rejected Tuesday calls to reshuffle his new team, as demanded by EU lawmakers threatening to veto the EU executive in a crunch vote.

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Still hoping to get approval: Buttiglione (left) and Barroso

Battling to avoid an EU crisis days before the Commission is due to take office, Barroso called on the European Parliament to show "responsibility" and back him in what looks set to be a knife-edge ballot on Wednesday.

"A reshuffle would create more institutional and political problems than it would resolve," he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in a debate which is due to be followed by the vote on Wednesday.

"This commission team is worthy of your trust," he added. "I appeal to your sense of responsibility. I appeal above all to your European identity... and ask you to give the commission your confidence."

Socialists and others in the 732-member EU assembly have threatened to reject the incoming Commission led by Jose Barroso in particular over controversial Italian EU justice

commissioner-designate Rocco Buttiglione.

The conservative Catholic -- who was in the EU assembly for Tuesday's debate along with all the other members of Barroso's new team -- sparked a storm last month by saying that homosexuality is a sin and that women's place is to have children and be protected by their husbands.

To placate Buttiglioni's opponents, Barroso has vowed to create a new fundamental rights agency to right racial and sexual prejudice and to draft EU legislation outlawing discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation.

But the parliamentary arithmetic is too close to call. Only the conservative European People's Party, which holds 268 seats, backs the Barroso Commission.

Liberal vote decisive

Europäisches Paralament in Strassburg

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg

Analysts say that the outcome could depend crucially on the centrist Liberals, whose leader Graham Watson has called for Buttiglione to be reshuffled but whose 88 members are believed to be divided.

Watson reiterated his hardline at Tuesday's parliamentary session.

"We will not change our principles against our consciences for political convenience," he said, citing Buttiglione's own justification for standing by his views on homosexuality.

The head of the Socialists meanwhile also restated his group's intention to reject the incoming Commission unless it is reshuffled.

Martin Schulz Europaparlament SPD

German socialist European Parliament member Martin Schulz

"If there is not a reshuffle of the Commission like we have asked, then we cannot approve the Commission," Martin Schulz told AFP, saying it is "very difficult" to forecast how the vote will go.

"It will be a close vote," he added.

Prodi willing to stay on

Current Commission chief Romano Prodi has confirmed that, if Barroso fails to win the parliament's backing before Nov. 1 -- when he is due to take office -- he could continue as a caretaker until the row is resolved.

It is unclear what exactly would happen in case of a "no" vote.

EU officials have repeatedly rebuffed questions by reiterating their hopes that the Barroso team will win approval.

Barroso von EU-Parlament bestätigt

Barroso addressing EU parliamentarians in July

In his Strasbourg address Barroso reaffirmed a compromise proposal made last week to transfer some of Buttiglione's more sensitive powers to a committee of fellow commissioners.

He also announced that he will create an EU agency on fundamental rights, as well as launch an "action plan" against all forms of discrimination.

"You are aware of the expectations of European citizens... of the apathy... of the populist threat from those that want to undermine our Union," he said. "We have no time to waste. This is the moment to move on to action."

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