In a surprise move amid a broadening controversy over an antigay appointee, incoming European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso withdrew his proposed 24-member executive team from consideration by the European Parliament on Wednesday, realizing he faced an unprecedented rejection. Barroso's team faced almost certain defeat because of strong opposition to Italy's Rocco Buttiglione, the proposed justice commissioner, who has called homosexuality a sin and has been criticized for his conservative views on women and marriage. "The outcome would not be positive," Barroso said of the aborted vote by the 732-member legislature. "In these circumstances, I have decided not to submit a new commission for approval today."
The delay will throw the European Union into institutional turmoil, leaving the E.U.'s head office with only caretaker management as of Monday, when the new commission was to take over. Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, told parliament he hoped to resolve the problem in the next few weeks. The next parliamentary session is planned for the week of November 15. The outgoing commission, headed by Italian Romano Prodi, will stay in office as long as necessary. Prodi's five-year term expires on Sunday.
Socialists, Greens, Communists, and many Liberals had threatened to veto Barroso's team because of their opposition to Buttiglione. Socialist officials estimated that 362 legislators would have voted against the commission and 345 in favor. E.U. lawmakers can only vote to accept or reject the entire team and not individual commissioners. Barroso has a number of options now, though not all the decisions are in his hands. He does not have the power to name his own cabinet, only to assign the portfolios to the candidates sent by the E.U.'s 25 member governments. Barroso could shuffle Buttiglione into a less sensitive portfolio. But some opposition members are now demanding the Italian be dropped entirely from the leadership team.
The decision to withdraw Buttiglione is up to Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. According to Italian news reports Wednesday, Berlusconi had been searching for a last-minute solution under pressure from Barroso. Possible replacements include Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, former economy minister Giulio Tremonti, and former commissioner Emma Bonino. Buttiglione, asked Wednesday as he exited the plenary session whether he would withdraw, replied, "No comment. I am calm."