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Europe

Barroso Says Reshuffle Will Be Limited

A day after withdrawing his initial line-up, European Commission president-in-waiting Jose Barroso says changes to his proposed executive will be limited.

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The incoming commission head has little room to manoeuver

"There will not be an extensive reshuffle, it will be very limited," he said on Europe 1 radio Thursday, adding that the new list would be ready "in less than a month, I hope."

Jose Barroso backed down Wednesday in a high-stakes stand-off with EU lawmakers, withdrawing his proposed team and plunging the EU into uncharted constitutional waters.

Barroso, whose new EU executive was due to take office on Monday, conceded he could not persuade the European Parliament to accept a line-up that included his appointment as justice chief of Rome's candidate for the European Commission Rocco Buttiglione (photo, below), who unleashed a storm of controversy when he expressed highly conservative views on gays and women.

A "wise" move

"Barroso's decision is a wise one and aims to avert a confrontation which could have degenerated into conflict," Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told the Senate. "The observations and criticism expressed democratically by European parliamentarians against more than just one of the designated commissioners are fully legitimate," he added.

Rocco Buttiglione in Brüssel

Even Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi couldn't convince Buttiglione to give way.

Frattini also stressed his government had full confidence in Barroso. "The Italian government has full confidence and reiterates its full confidence in the president-designate of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso," he added.

Trouble at the institutions?

Back in Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told reporters Wednesday he was concerned the controversy was symptomatic of trouble at the European institutions.

"What we don't need is a conflict between the European institutions. That would be a major step backwards," he said, adding "We need cooperation between the European institutions rather than conflicts, whatever the causes."

Schöder's coalition partners, meanwhile, welcomed Barroso's climbdown, with Green party leaders Claudia Roth and Reinhard Bütikofer as well as the liberal FDP hailing a "good day for European democracy."

In Brussels, the head of the liberals in the EU parliament -- seen as the kingmakers in any new vote on a new commission line-up -- nuanced his group's view of Buttiglione.

"The position of my group was to vote against Mr. Buttiglione as justice and home affairs commissioner, but in favor of Mr. Buttiglione as commissioner," Graham Watson a Briton who leads the 88-strong Liberal group told reporters. "However, to be honest, I think it would be at least politically unwise for Mr. Barroso to come back with a commission with Mr. Buttiglione in it," he added.

Buttiglione still a candidate

Martin Schulz Europaparlament SPD

Martin Schulz

German member of the European Parliament Martin Schulz (photo), who heads the 200-strong Socialist group in the 731 member parliament, said that Barroso would never have a majority as long as he kept Buttiglione.

Technically Barroso can reshuffle his proposed commission to give Buttiglione another job but he cannot fire him, as the 25-member states each nominate their commissioner. It would be up to Buttiglione to resign to break the possible deadlock.

The straight-talking 56-year-old is a Catholic conservative with positions close to the Vatican on abortion and artificial insemination. His ties with the Vatican are such that he is considered a close friend and advisor of Pope John Paul II and has even written a book about the pontiff.

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