MEPs win battle over anti-gay commissioner

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Euro MPs today claimed victory in their battle over the anti-gay European Commissioner.

Euro MPs today claimed victory in their battle over the anti-gay European Commissioner.

They cheered and applauded in the Strasbourg parliament as the commission president Jose Manuel Barroso gave up the struggle to steamroller his plans through against vehement opposition to outspoken Italian Rocco Buttiglione.

Mr Barroso said he needed "a few weeks" to reconsider his plans - and he emphasised his determination to work closely with MEPs in the interest of Europe.

His contrite performance was in stark contrast to yesterday's efforts to brazen it out against mounting protests at Mr Barroso's decision to give Mr Buttiglione the sensitive job of running EU policies on civil liberties and fundamental rights despite his views on homosexuality and the role of women.

Last night Mr Barroso realised he would almost certainly lose today's vital vote of approval for his team.

Instead he came to the chamber today to announce he was not submitting his team for approval and would be holding new consultations with EU leaders and MEPs.

Mr Barroso said he had listened intently to MEPs and needed more time to consult "so we can have strong support for the new commission". He added: "It is better to have more time to get it right."

Then he flattered MEPs by declaring: "These last days have demonstrated that the European Union is a strong political construction and that this Parliament, elected by popular vote across all our member states, has indeed a vital role to play in the governance of Europe."

Mr Barroso said the Parliament and the Commission had a common democratic commitment to reinforce European integration.

The applause of approval also included some boos - a reflection of continuing antagonism towards Mr Barroso for refusing to move Mr Buttiglione to a less sensitive job as soon as MEPs complained about him.

Mr Barroso gambled on the European Parliament backing off at the last minute as it has done on many previous occasions when confronting the Commission.

Today the Parliament's president, Josep Borrell, said both Commission and Parliament were now "exploring political virgin territory".

Under the EU Treaty the new commission should take office on November 1 after the express approval of the European Parliament but, with Mr Barroso now not submitting his team for approval, that could not happen.

The next few weeks will see intense political negotiating between the Parliament, the Commission and EU leaders.

Vital to the talks will be Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who nominated Mr Buttiglione and will not be pleased at his rejection.

Mr Barroso must now shuffle his pack while leaving most of his team, including Peter Mandelson, unchanged. Meanwhile the outgoing Commission team will stay on in a caretaker role until the problem is resolved.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said the premier was in regular contact with Mr Barroso.

The spokesman said: "We support the efforts he is making to get agreement. The reception he received in the European Parliament suggests there is support for the way in which he is handling the matter.

"We will do all we can to help but it's primarily a matter for Mr Barroso and the European Parliament.

"It's for the President-elect to take the lead on this.

"What's happened is the perfectly proper scrutiny by the European Parliament. What we are seeing is the European Parliament in action in the way that is laid down."

EU leaders will gather in Rome on Friday to sign the new constitutional treaty. Mr Blair's spokesman accepted they may inevitably discuss the Commission but said there were no plans for a special meeting.

The heads of government also gather in Brussels next week for a routine summit, which could also see further talks on the affair if it is not resolved by then.