Mr Barroso should accept he has made a mistake

Click to follow

Rocco Buttiglione, the incoming EU Justice and Home Affairs commissioner, is undoubtedly a man of principle

Rocco Buttiglione, the incoming EU Justice and Home Affairs commissioner, is undoubtedly a man of principle. Which is why, we must assume, he did nothing to conceal his deeply illiberal and offensive views on homosexuality and the role of women in the family, when he went before a confirmation hearing at the European Parliament.

By telling members of its civil liberties committee that he believed homosexuality is a sin and that he would oppose new EU legislation that ran counter to his moral beliefs, Mr Buttiglione must have known he was signing his own rejection slip. It was not remotely surprising that MEPs found the former Italian cabinet minister unsuitable for a post which requires him to uphold the fundamental freedoms of Europe's citizens and balance the needs of law and order with civil liberties. His efforts to allay fears by stating he did not view homosexuality as a "crime" cut little ice with MEPs who were also angered by his proposals for transit camps for asylum seekers.

The European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, who gave this portfolio to the Italian nominee, is thus far refusing to give ground, and the crisis highlights the regrettable fact that the European Parliament - the EU's only directly elected body - has no power to veto individual members of the Commission. The only mechanism open to the Strasbourg assembly is the nuclear option of sacking all 25 commissioners, an option which on this occasion the political arithmetic of the Parliament makes impossible.

The best way forward is not, in any case, for Silvio Berlusconi's nominee to be sent packing back to Rome, but rather to be moved to a job where his moral beliefs are irrelevant. For that to happen, however, Mr Barroso would have to admit he made a mistake. The episode is certainly an embarrassment . But there are clear grounds for viewing Mr Buttiglione's views as conflictual with the task of overseeing EU justice policies. And while reshuffling his team at this stage might cause a temporary loss of face, Mr Barroso should swallow his pride. A failure to compromise on this matter would inflict far more extensive damage to the EU's future direction and public image.