Mandelson attacks gay row commissioner

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The Independent Online

The crisis over claims by Italy's incoming EU Justice and Home Affairs commissioner that homosexuality is "a sin" deepened yesterday, as his future colleague, Peter Mandelson, described the remarks as "unwise".

The crisis over claims by Italy's incoming EU Justice and Home Affairs commissioner that homosexuality is "a sin" deepened yesterday, as his future colleague, Peter Mandelson, described the remarks as "unwise".

Mr Mandelson, who is due to take up the post of Trade commissioner in November, intervened as pressure mounted on Rocco Buttiglione, whose views have infuriated MEPs.

Speaking to the BBC at a conference in Budapest, Mr Mandelson said that it was "unwise" of Mr Buttiglione to express his views on homosexuality during a confirmation hearing conducted by MEPs. Some arguments were best deployed in academic seminars rather than at political gatherings, Mr Mandelson added.

The row has raised the prospect of a clash between the European Parliament and the new European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, who has so far stood by Mr Buttiglione.

Yesterday, there was speculation that Mr Buttiglione, a staunch Roman Catholic, would stand down after he said he would rather renounce his job than compromise his principles. However, his aides later said these words were not meant to imply he was thinking of quitting.

On Monday, a committee of MEPs rejected the candidature of Mr Buttiglione. Although they cannot get rid of an individual, they can vote down the whole European Commission on 27 October. This nuclear option is unlikely, however, because the parliament is splitting down party lines and centre-right MEPs are likely to target socialist commissioners-designate in retaliation for the attacks on Mr Buttiglione.

However, many MEPs are incensed that Mr Barroso appears intent on ignoring the first ever clear vote by a committee against an individual. Most believe Mr Barroso will have to either strip Mr Buttiglione of the civil liberties aspects of his job, or give additional undertakings to ensure that fundamental rights are safeguarded.

Martin Schulz, the leader of the socialist group in the European Parliament - the second largest bloc of MEPs - said of Mr Buttiglione: "His comments on women and gay people make him entirely unsuited to the role allocated to him. You cannot build a Europe for the 21st century based on 19th-century values." He added if Mr Barroso fails to take action regarding Mr Buttiglione, "we will propose that the socialist group vote against confirmation of the new Commission".

Graham Watson, the leader of the 88-member Liberal Democrat group, has said he may not be able to back the Commission, and Greens, left-wingers and Eurosceptics are likely to vote "no".

The row is a blow to Mr Barroso who had discretion to allocate all 24 portfolios in the Commission. MEPs have criticised other appointments, including that of the incoming Competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, who has had to deny her wide business links could cause a conflict of interest.

Mr Mandelson's comments reflect the wider disdain for Mr Buttiglione's remarks. The Swedish premier, Goran Persson, has accused him of"sensational lack of judgement".

At his hearing in the parliament, Mr Buttiglione described homosexuality as "a sin", but said he would uphold the rights of gays. He also argued that the aim of marriage was "to allow women to have children and to have the protection of a male".

In an interview on Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Buttiglione said: "I don't know if I have the faith to have my head cut off for my beliefs, but I have enough faith to renounce a job in the Commission if need be."

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