Franco Frattini has formally stepped down as the European Union's commissioner for justice, freedom and security following his appointment as foreign minister in the new Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi.
Franco Frattini is leaving Brussels to take up the role of Italy's foreign minister
"Frattini has accepted to join the Italian government as a minister and consequently has submitted his resignation to the European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso," commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said on Thursday, May 8.
Frattini, who also acted as one of the EU executive's five vice-presidents, had taken unpaid leave while taking part in the April election campaign. During that period, he was replaced by Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot of France.
Barrot will retain his new post as the EU's top justice official, meaning the Berlusconi government will have to designate a new transport commissioner instead.
"At this precise point in time I cannot yet give you any news on who that person will be," the spokesman told reporters.
The list of possible candidates is topped by Antonio Tajani, a conservative member of the European Parliament and a longtime associate of the Italian prime minister.
The new commissioner will have to be endorsed by Barroso and vetted by the European Parliament, and the switch of portfolio has raised speculation in Brussels that the commission chief did this to avoid a repetition of the Rocco Buttiglione case.
Buttiglione, a Catholic politician, had been Berlusconi's first choice of commissioner in 2004, but the European parliament vetoed his appointment after he said that he believed homosexuality to be a sin.
Berlusconi eventually designated Frattini in his place after parliament threatened to reject Barroso's entire proposed commission.
A decision on whether the new commissioner from Italy will also be made a commission vice-president will only be taken once he or she has formally assumed office, officials said.
Frattini returns to old job, old boss
Frattini, is no stranger either to his new post or to his new boss. The 51-year-old already held the post of foreign minister from 2002 to 2004, during Berlusconi's last spell in power. He has a reputation as a cool-headed loyalist with strong legal skills.
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He initially came to attention as an official of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, where he helped draft a law which helped Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman with major interests in Italian media, fend off prosecution for conflicts of interest.
When Frattini's previous spell as foreign minister ended in 2004, Berlusconi sent him to the European Union, where he has spent four years as commissioner for justice, freedom and security.
There he has dealt among other issues with illegal immigration and counter-terrorism.
He caused a stir in September last year when he floated a short-lived proposal to have certain words, such as "terrorism," "bomb" or "genocide," banned from the Internet in order to discourage attacks.
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Born in Rome on March 14, 1957 to parents of Tuscan origin, Frattini studied law, and rose rapidly through the civil service, becoming a state attorney at the age of only 24.
Frattini's law background will be an asset for Berlusconi
He also quickly became a leading light in Forza Italia, which Berlusconi founded in the early 1990s to propel his bid for power. Frattini became a member of the party's executive committee in 1998.
During last month's elections, which won Berlusconi his third stint as premier, Frattini preached for an expanded foreign ministry, including responsibility for foreign trade.
He has also vowed to put "Europe at the center of the Italian political scene."
According to Frattini's official biography released by the Italian government, he has an extensive knowledge of the intricate workings of administrative trial law, contract law and public supply and public works contracts.
An avid sportsman and reputed workaholic, Frattini is a climber, skier, sailor and scuba diver. Separated and with a 15-year-old daughter, he is fluent in English and French.