by MONITOR l THE European Parliament is often criticised as a mere talking shop (when it is not being described as a “gravy train”, that is) but a week from now it may show that it has the power to prevent the new European Commission of Jose Manuel Barroso from taking office. When Mr Barroso, a former prime minister of Portugal, began work as EU President two months ago he was widely praised for the speed with which he chose and named his 25 commissioners, each responsible for an area of the Commission's work. Under relatively new arrangements, designed to give the Parliament more power, the commissioners have to appear before the MEPs and answer questions on their area of competence; it is similar to the US Senate confirmation hearings of senior administration officials in the American system.

Most commissioners have no difficulty in persuading the Parliament of their suitability but last week Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian named by Mr Barrosso to take the Justice and Security portfolio, unwisely chose to express his opinion that homosexuality is a sin, that a woman's role is to stay at home and have children under the protection of her husband, and that single mothers are bad parents. This might not have mattered greatly if he had not been given responsibility for Justice but as matters now stand the Parliament may decline to vote next Wednesday to approve Mr Buttiglione's appointment. Should this happen, the approval of all 25 commissioners will automatically be denied and Mr Barrosso will be unable to begin his work as President. For the moment Mr Buttiglione is sticking to his opinion and, surprisingly, Mr Barrosso is supporting him. Various compromises are being considered but time is short.

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