Sunday, October 31, 2004


EU Constitution signed; anti-gay candidate backs off

While we've been trying to hold an election, the European Union has been trying to adopt a constitution. Neither is going smoothly.

The EU constitution was signed this past Friday in Rome by the 25 member countries, but it will not be adopted until all EU countries have ratified it—a process that will take several years at best.

In the interim the EU is reducing the number of commissioners from 30 to 25—one for each member state. The commissioners are the executive body of the EU, and each country recommends one commissioner. Commissioners are not to represent their home countries but are to see to the interests of the EU. They are appointed for 5-year terms.

In what appears to be a rather strange way to organize a government,

Each commissioner has responsibility for a policy area, such as agriculture or competition.1

Twenty-four directorates general cover similar policy areas.

So as the new 25-member commission was being set up, Italy's prime minister, right-wing media mogul and crook Silvio Berlusconi, could find no better to appoint than Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's minister of European Affairs. (Please stop tittering; this is serious.)

Buttiglione is a personal friend and confidant of the Pope. The BBC described him as a

philosopher-politician, a man equally at home giving an ethics seminar as discussing practical solutions to Europe's immigration issues.

A father of four, he is a devoted, God-fearing Roman Catholic and a professor of political science in Rome.

Mr. Buttiglione came to the commission with high hopes. An Italian paper quoted him as saying,

I may be a nobody in Italy, but in Europe I will be someone.

Buttiglione was to be the EU minister for Justice, Freedom and Security, which would indeed have made him "someone."

But Rocco got off to a rocky start during the vetting process. Several weeks ago he went before the Civil Liberties Committee and was narrowly rejected for his view that homosexuality is a sin. He also didn't come off too well on immigration issues.

But the Civil Liberties Committee is only advisory to the European Parliament, which must ultimately approve EU commissioners. Now here's another quirk. The European Parliament cannot reject individual commissioners, but must accept or reject all 25 of them.

So the leftists in the Parliament opposed Buttiglione. The right-wing thought he was the best thing since brie. And the matter was to be decided by the liberals at the center, who—as you may imagine—were divided. Prime Minister Berlusconi thought Rocco was a victim of "leftist propaganda," and the Pope himself could hardly have been pleased.

Well, it was beginning to look as if the European Parliament might have to reject the whole caboodle of commissioners in order to get rid of Buttiglione. So in a last-minute capitulation, Berlusconi withdrew Buttiglione's nomination on Friday, and the EU commission was saved—well, sort of. They're supposed to take office on November 1 and they're going to be short one commissioner. But with so many of them, surely one or two could lend a hand.


1 You have to wonder about a division of policy that just happens to coincide with the number of member states minus one. [back]


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