-- The president-elect of the European Commission on Wednesday withdrew his proposed executive team from consideration by the European Parliament to avoid an unprecedented rejection.
"I have come to the conclusion that if a vote is taken today, the outcome will not be positive for E.U. institutions," Jose Manuel Barroso told parliament. "In these circumstances, I have decided not to submit the new European Commission for your approval today."
Barroso's team faced likely rejection because he refused to replace his nominated justice and security chief, Italy's Rocco Buttiglione, who outraged many lawmakers by calling homosexuality a "sin" and saying that "the family exists to permit a woman to have children and be protected by her husband."
The last-minute pullback came as E.U. leaders were preparing for a grand ceremony in Rome on Friday to sign the first constitution of the newly expanded bloc, which now has 25 member countries. E.U. officials had hoped that the gathering would launch a public campaign for ratification by the member states, but many analysts say it may now become a crisis meeting on the standoff between the bloc's main institutions.
Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister selected by E.U. leaders to head the commission, declined to say whether he would replace some of the 24 individuals nominated for seats on the body or just reshuffle portfolios. The body is the European Union's executive arm.
At a news conference, Barroso said he would consult E.U. leaders and parliament before putting forward a new proposal "in the next few weeks."
The delay means the outgoing commission, led by Romano Prodi of Italy, remains in office temporarily, but officials said it should not seriously affect E.U. decision-making. Prodi told Italian television that he was confident the parliament would approve a new commission at its next session, on Nov. 17, but that Barroso would have to make more than one change to his team.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum called Barroso's move a victory for the growing power of the E.U. legislature, which was seen as toothless until it forced a previous commission to resign en masse in 1999. The 732-seat parliament cannot veto individual commissioners, but it can vote down the whole team.
A senior E.U. diplomat said member states were privately furious at what many saw as a power grab by the assembly. "It is a lot bigger than homosexuality and single mothers. There is a general concern that every time parliament has one of these sessions it is going to steal more powers," he said.
The outgoing vice president of the commission, Neil Kinnock, said he expected Buttiglione, a confidant of Pope John Paul II, to resign. But as of Wednesday he had not, and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Buttiglione remained Rome's nominee "at present."