The EU Commission President-designate, Senhor(?) Jose Manuel Barroso, announced to the EU Parliament this morning that he was no longer in a position to propose a vote on his new Commission and that a delay was therefore requested.
The delay results from strong opposition within the EU Parliament to the nomination of Signor Rocco Buttiglione as justice and home affairs commissioner; Signor Buttiglione was nominated by the Italian government of Prime Minister Signor Silvio Berluscone. The opposition to Signor Buttiglione is based on his views on homosexuality and single mothers, although some [centre-right MEPs] imply that it is an attempt by centre-left MEPs to force a more left-leaning Commission upon the EU. My earlier articles on the controversy surrounding Singor Buttiglione are here and here.
My view is that with a high proportion of EU member states currently having centre-right governments the likelihood of a significantly more left-leaning Commission being acceptable to anyone (EU member state governments or the majority of MEPs) is highly unlikely. I consider myself centre-right in my politics, but what is at issue here is whether the Commission should be influenced by religious viewpoints per se, or whether it should remain a basically secular body. Also at issue of course, and perhaps of even more far-reaching importance, are the respective levels of power within the EU wielded by the Parliament (an elected body) and the Commission (a body whose members are nominated by EU member state governments). The existing 'democratic deficit' which many say exists in our EU governance, and I am certainly amongst those who take this view, is one of the principal reasons for the disillusionment with the EU amongst many even of those who are fundamentally in favour of the EU, such as me. Those who are viscerally opposed to the whole EU project are obviously not happy now, but would be even unhappier (I would imagine) were the Parliament to gain increased powers.
In any case, quite apart from the question of Signor Buttiglione's suitability as a Commissioner, this is a power struggle between the Executive (the EU Commission) and the Legisalture (the EU Parliament) and Senhor Barroso has has had to face the reality that his Commission as originally proposed was highly likely to be rejected in toto by the Parliament, this being the only option open to it in the absence of the power to reject individual Commissioners.
Today's delayed vote should have been the prelude to a meeting in two days time at which the 25 EU member state Heads of Government were to meet to sign the new EU Constitutional Treaty, prior to the new Commission taking up office on 1st November. Whilst it is likely that the Treaty signing will still go ahead as planned (at least I haven't heard anything to the contrary at this stage), Friday's meeting will now undoubtedly be dominated by behind-the-scenes negotiations aimed at resolving today's fiasco. From my point of view, and that of many commentators I have been listening to, the hope is that some of the other EU governments will prevail upon Signor Berluscone to withdraw Signor Buttiglione's nomination and substitute another more acceptable person as Italy's commissioner to the EU, but I understand that this matter is highly-controversial in Italian domestic politics so we will just have to wait and see what happens.
My hope is that those MEPs who have voiced their opposition to Signor Buttiglione will not be prevailed upon over the next couple of days to withdraw their opposition, although I am reasonably sanguine that their opposition is far too firm for that to be a major risk. Watch this space ...
(Note: an article similar to this would have appeared here earlier today, probably almost five hours ago, were it not for problems with posting to my 'Blogger' site. This has been a recurrent problem over the past several weeks and I strongly suspect this problem does not originate on my computer or in my own Broadband connection as I have no difficulty with any other website I post to. It is very irritating to lose a whole article when uploading it!)
UPDATE: (Thursday 28OCT04 00.45 BST) Sad, but not surprised, that some of the usual dinosaurs of the Conservative Party have rushed to voice their support for Signor Buttiglione.
2ND UPDATE: (Saturday 30OCT04 09.40 BST) It seems clear that the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berluscone has accepted that his original nominee for Italy's EU Commissioner will have to be dropped. Good news, and if the alternative suggested in this article (Mario Monti) is correct, then it seems pretty good news all round.