European CommissionerGeneral

European Commissioner-Designate for Justice, Security to Step Down

Italy’s European commissioner-designate, Rocco Buttiglione, announced Saturday he has agreed to withdraw from the incoming new executive, to help the European Commission president-designate assemble a new team. His nomination as justice and security commissioner had been strongly opposed by a large number of European parliament deputies.

The European commissioner-designate for justice and security, Rocco Buttiglione, Saturday described himself as an innocent victim of an orchestrated campaign, but refused to elaborate.

Mr. Buttiglione declared he was prepared to step aside to favor the path of the president-designate of the commission, Portugal’s Jose Manuel Barroso. Mr. Buttiglione said Europe today needs a strong commission that will work with the parliament and governments to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by the Constitution.

The new European Union constitution was signed in Rome Friday by all 25 member states, and will now require ratification by each of them, before it can take effect in 2007.

Mr. Buttiglione’s announcement was made just hours after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi indicated he was withdrawing him as Italy’s nominee for the justice commissioner post.

Mr. Buttiglione, a staunch Catholic, ran into fierce opposition in the EU parliament by saying homosexuality was a sin, and that marriage was for women to have children. Mr. Barroso, the commission’s president-designate had decided to withdraw his line-up Wednesday, when he saw it faced almost certain rejection.

Addressing a packed news conference, Mr. Buttiglione said he planned to step down for the good of the commission.

“I was ready to resign earlier,” he said. “I had prepared my letter of resignation on the 26th, hoping that it might settle the argument and allow the Barroso commission to be voted on the 27th.”

Mr. Buttiglione added he had not sent the resignation letter, because the leader of the European Popular Party, Jan Hans Poettering, had asked him to stay on, or the party planned to withdraw its support to the Barroso commission.

Mr. Buttiglione is now likely to remain in government as European Affairs Minister. Italian newspapers reported that the likely candidate for the post of European commissioner is Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. If that scenario is confirmed, Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini is widely expected to also take on the Foreign Ministry portfolio.