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Europe

Fate of Incoming EU Commission Still Uncertain

EU Commission President Prodi indicated Friday that his team was prepared for an extension of its term as the crisis over incoming President Barroso's choice of commissioners continued to rage in Brussels.

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Not on the job yet and already under attack: Jose Manuel Barroso

A spokesman for outgoing EU Commission President Romano Prodi said in Brussels on Friday that in light of the continuing controversy over incoming President Jose Manuel's nomination of Rocco Buttiglione as justice chief, Prodi's team would continue in office if needed and carry on with their responsibilities.

He added that though the EU Commission still hadn't "officially" discussed the issue, they would have to if the European Parliament rejected Barroso's controversial team of commissioners in the coming week.

Barroso confident of support

The drastic statement follows frantic efforts by a besieged Barroso on Thursday to persuade the European Parliament to back his team of commissioners.

Barroso offered some concessions to MEPs to try to defuse the crisis over his choice of Rocco Buttiglione as justice and security commissioner.

Rocco Buttiglione in Brüssel

EU Commissioner designate for Justice, Freedom and Security Rocco Buttiglione.

Barroso said Buttiglione (photo), who infuriated many EU parliamentarians after he called homosexuality a sin and said that marriage existed to enable women to have children and the protection of a man, would be shadowed on human rights and discrimination issues. "I've asked parliament to take a balanced view of the project, of my commission, and I'm very confident we'll get the support of the clear majority of the members of the European Parliament," Barroso said.

Barroso also furnished a letter penned by Buttiglione, in which he apologized for offence caused in remarks made during his confirmation hearing before the parliament.

"Words so emotionally charged as sin should perhaps not be introduced into the political debate," Buttiglione wrote. "I did not intend in any way to offend the feelings of anybody and, in particular, of women and homosexuals."

Another post for Buttiglione?

But, it still remains unclear whether Barroso will be able to muster enough votes for his team of commissioners to be approved by a majority of the 732-member European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday. The EU parliament vote is to approve or reject the entire commission. MEPs cannot veto individual commissioners. Without parliamentary approval, the commission cannot take office on November 1.

Though Barroso is assured of the support of the conservatives, the largest group in parliament, he still has to convince the 200-strong socialist group. Socialist leader Martin Schulz said Thursday that his group still wanted Barroso replaced and would otherwise seek to rally a majority against Barroso. "The vast majority of my group will act as a bloc and the vote is going to be 'no'," Schulz told Reuters.

He later suggested that Buttiglione be given another post as a compromise. "Barroso has until next week," Schulz told German n-tv television. "If he gives Buttiglione another post, we can come together."

"That's democracy"

Daniel Cohn-Bendit

Daniel Cohn-Bendit

The Greens have said that whatever the outcome, the incoming executive would be weakened by Buttiglione's inclusion and other controversial appointees in competition and farm policy. "Such a commission would hardly survive the next five years," Greens co-leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit (photo) told Reuters.

European Parliament President Josep Borrell also said that there was a possibility that a majority of the parliament would reject Barroso's team on Wednesday.

"That would mean that Prodi would remain in office for a few weeks longer," Borrell told Italian daily La Repubblica on Friday. "It's no war, no fight and not even a trial of power: That's democracy," Borell said.

European Catholics peeved

Even as the row over the appropriateness of Buttiglione's nomination for justice chief simmers, the issue seems to be opening up new divides between devout European Catholics and the European left.

Many Catholics have been asking whether their views now are so politically incorrect as to keep them out of office. In view of Buttiglione's credentials as a conservative Italian Catholic and a close friend of Pope John Paul, devout Catholics have hit back at the European left's assault on his comments on homosexuals and single women.

The Vatican has lashed out at Italian communist paper Il Manifesto's recent branding of Catholics as "theo-cons". A senior cardinal at the Vatican warned against "a new Inquisition."

"This is the signal that believing Christians can't apply for certain jobs within the EU," Catholic Bishop Joseph Duffy of Clogher in Ireland told Irish Independent newspaper, accusing Buttiglione's critics of "pure intolerance."

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