Despite Rocco Buttiglione's regrets for calling homosexuality "a sin," European Parliament leaders maintained their threat Thursday to veto the entire incoming European Union executive commission unless the archconservative Italian is dropped as the next EU justice commissioner.
A compromise bid to appease EU lawmakers by Jose Manuel Barroso, the incoming European Commission president, failed to resolve a crisis over the appointment of his 24-member EU executive. A "no" vote next Thursday by the 732-member European Parliament could trigger an unprecedented situation: Barroso's team taking office in a caretaker capacity--for lack of support from the EU assembly--managing routine, day-to-day business, unable to take on significant initiatives.
After a two-hour meeting with political leaders from the EU assembly, Barroso brushed aside that prospect. "I am convinced we'll have a majority in parliament. Absolutely convinced," he told reporters. He produced a letter by Buttiglione apologizing for remarks about single mothers and gays made in a confirmation hearing before the European Parliament justice committee.
In those hearings, Buttiglione, an archconservative who is close to the pope, called homosexuality a "sin" and said marriage was intended "to allow women to have children and to have [the] protection of a male." "I deeply regret the difficulties and problems that have arisen," Buttiglione wrote in a letter of apology. "Words so emotionally charged as 'sin' should perhaps not be introduced in the political debate."
He insisted that as EU justice commissioner he would have no problems defending civil liberties and gay rights despite his strong Roman Catholic convictions. To appease the assembly, Barroso offered to limit Buttiglione's role. He said overseeing the fate of civil liberties and human rights would be left to a special panel that would include Buttiglione but that Barroso himself would chair it. "The new commission will be absolutely opposed to any kind of discrimination. It will put high on its agenda nondiscrimination and the defense of human rights. That is an important matter of substance," he said.
Buttiglione's apology was rejected as too little and, possibly, too late. As a result, officials said, only the 268 conservatives in the European Parliament and the 27-member Union of the Europe of Nations group fully support the Barroso team, which needs at least 367 votes to get approved. Socialists, Liberals, Communists, and Greens said they would veto the Barroso team unless it was changed. "I will not recommend to my group to change its opinion," said Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialist group that led the fight against Buttiglione.