Italy's Pick for EU Job Steps Aside

Italy's choice for a European Commission post, who sparked an uproar with his comments on homosexuality and women, said Saturday he will step aside.

Rocco Buttiglione (search) said he wanted to give a free hand to incoming Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in forming a new executive. He made the announcement at a news conference a few hours after Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi indicated he was withdrawing Buttiglione as Italy's nominee for the justice commissioner post.

"I am ready to step aside to favor the path of the Barroso commission, which I wish every success," Buttiglione said, reading a statement.

Berlusconi said late Friday that he would likely find another nominee to replace Buttiglione for the EU post, while Buttiglione would retain his current post as Italy's minister for European affairs.

Berlusconi said the decision was taken after he met Barroso and other European leaders, who were in Rome on Friday to sign the EU's first constitution.

A committee in the European Parliament earlier this month objected to Buttiglione's nomination for the EU justice post because of his conservative views.

Buttiglione, a Catholic who is confidant of Pope John Paul II, drew outrage when he told his confirmation hearing at the European Parliament that homosexuality is a sin and women are better off married and at home.

"I have the right to think that homosexuality is a sin, but this has no effect on politics, because in politics the principle of nondiscrimination prevails, and the state has no right to stick its nose in these situations," Buttiglione said, reading from a statement.

He described himself as a victim of an "ably orchestrated campaign" because of his conservative views.

Under EU guidelines, the Parliament cannot vote out individual nominees for the 25-seat executive Commission, but must vote on the group as a whole. Faced with an almost certain rejection, Barroso on Wednesday withdrew the entire Commission to allow more time for a solution.

The new Commission was to have taken office Monday. The executive arm of the EU runs the day to day business of the European Union and serves five-year terms.

Italian state radio said among the possible substitutes for Buttiglione as Italy's nominee were Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Education Minister Letizia Moratti. It said if Frattini got the post, the foreign ministry slot might be filled by Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini, who would then have two posts.