Buttiglione goes to appease the Left

A new European Commission was expected to be in place by November 1. But last month in Strasbourg, the threat that a majority of MEPs would veto the proposed line-up meant the intended team was hurriedly withdrawn. This has never happened before.

It has been said that the European Parliament has at last shown its teeth – the reality is that Left-wing MEPs have shown their determination to undermine the new pro-reform Commission.

The official trigger for this upheaval was the Right-wing Italian Government’s earlier selection of an amiable professor called Rocco Buttiglione, as Commissioner-elect, Buttiglione then obligingly fell into a trap dug for him by the Socialists. Specifically, he admitted to personal beliefs, derived from his Roman Catholic faith, that homosexuality is a sin. He recognised this did not make it a crime, and said that as he was being proposed as Justice Commissioner his personal beliefs had nothing to do with it. But, in the eyes of some in the Parliament, it had everything to do with it.

Presenting themselves as champions of human rights against discrimination, a Left alliance of Socialist, Communist, Liberal Democrat and Green MEPs showed contempt for tolerance and freedom of religious belief and voted against him in Committee.

However under current EU rules, MEPs have no powers to reject individual Commissioners. We only have the ‘nuclear option’ of rejecting the lot. This was indeed the likely outcome, had President-elect Barroso not given way at the last minute and withdrawn all nominations pending further consultations.

Buttiglione has now resigned to appease the Left. But to avoid loss of Italian face, and now to appease the Right, there must be other changes too. The most likely change will be the Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister, Laszlo Kowacs, as prospective Energy Commissioner. He had been widely labelled as incompetent in the role proposed. Allegedly he had never wanted the job in the first place, preferring to stay in national politics. He was nominated by his own government because it wanted him out of the way. As the UK knows from experience, this motivation for selecting Commissioners is not unusual.

In the meantime, the discredited Romano Prodi remains Commission President for a while longer, with Neil Kinnock still Vice-President and Peter Mandelson out of a job. But there is one unknown factor. Since nominating their previous Commissioners, Lithuania and Slovenia have both thrown out their Left-wing governments.

The Latvian Government has also fallen. Each may use the opportunity to send a new Right-wing Commissioner instead. So the antics of the Left in the Parliament could eventually result in stronger representation of the Reformists in the new Commission. The Left may have done the EU a good turn after all.

Every good wish,

Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP

(West Midlands Region)

Conservative Spokesman for

Employment & Social Affairs