Italy's conservative nominee to become the European Union's justice and home affairs commissioner vowed Tuesday that he would defend the rights of gays even though he considers homosexuality "a sin."
During a heated confirmation hearing at the European Parliament, Rocco Buttiglione also defended plans to have the 25-nation EU help operate processing centers for asylum seekers in North Africa. Legislators pushed the Christian Democrat to come clean on his conservative religious views, which many fear could influence his job in drafting antidiscrimination rules.
When pressed by Dutch Green Party member Kathalijne Buitenweg on his views on homosexuality, Buttiglione said he does not "hide the fact" that he is a practicing Roman Catholic and has close links to the Vatican. But he insisted his personal views would not influence his new position in promoting human rights in Europe.
"I may think that homosexuality is a sin, and this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime," Buttiglione said. "The rights of homosexuals should be defended on the same basis as the rights of all other European citizens. I would not accept the idea that homosexuals are a category apart."
Buttiglione was also asked whether he thinks marriage should legally remain a union between a man and a woman. "The family exists in order to allow women to have children and to have protection of a male who takes care of them. This is the traditional definition of marriage that I defend," he said.
"Some of the things he said about homosexuals is very worrying," said British socialist Michael Cashman. "His definition of marriage was very narrow." Buttiglione was also grilled on his views on illegal migrants and his proposals that the EU should coordinate with North African countries to help run transit centers under "mixed management" schemes for migrants outside Europe, in countries such as Libya.
Buttiglione denied reports that he is in favor of the EU setting up its own camps. "I never said we should set up concentration camps in northern Africa and deport refugees to those camps.... It's repugnant. I proposed centers for humanitarian relief."
He said EU governments should send experts there to inform asylum seekers of their rights and to help weed out fake applicants. "We know legal migration is needed; let us make rules for legal migration,"
The issue of immigration has leapt to the top of the EU agenda in recent years because of the flow of illegal immigrants from North Africa and other parts of the world. Germany and Italy are pushing the idea of setting up processing centers outside EU borders. The debate led last week to deadlock within the 25-nation EU, with France and Sweden opposing such centers.
Those against the proposal say they fear it could endanger the rights of asylum seekers, especially since they will be forced to stay in countries that themselves have dubious human rights records.
The 56-year old Buttiglione will take over from Portugal's Antonio Vitorino on November 1. Buttiglione was a surprise choice to replace Italy's outgoing EU commissioner, Mario Monti, who had been the competition commissioner.