Italian conservative and papal confidant Rocco Buttiglione, under attack for calling homosexuality sinful, said Saturday he was abandoning efforts to become European Union justice commissioner, a bid that has prevented the new EU executive from taking office.
Buttiglione defended his religious beliefs, however, insisting they would never have colored his EU politics.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi said late Friday that Buttiglione would remain as European affairs minister in his conservative government.
With the new commission virtually doomed to rejection by the European Parliament if Buttiglione remained part of it, the new EU top executive, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, earlier in the week withdrew all 24 nominees to buy time for a way out of the impasse.
The European Parliament must approve all 24 commissioners before the commission, which runs the EU's everyday affairs, can begin work. The commission was due to have taken office today.
During a confirmation hearing earlier this month, Buttiglione told the justice and home affairs committee that he considered homosexuality "a sin" and that marriage existed "to allow women to have children and to have the protection of a male."
"I am ready to step aside, to resign [from the bid], to favor the path of the Barroso commission, which I wish every success," Buttiglione told a news conference Saturday.
The flap over Buttiglione provided an embarrassing backdrop to elaborate EU ceremonies Friday in Rome for the signing of the union's proposed new constitution.
Buttiglione's decision was greeted with "great respect" by the head of the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, who has supported the Italian.
Yet, Buttiglione's stepping aside "did not signify that all difficulties with regard to the appointment of a new commission has been solved," Poettering said.
He singled out Laszlo Kovacs, Hungary's former foreign minister, tapped for energy commissioner; Dutch businesswoman Neelie Kroes, slated for competition commissioner; and Latvia's Igrida Udride, up for the budget post. Poettering said those three "lacked the necessary competence."
Barroso will now have to discuss with the conservatives in the European Parliament whether they will accept a replacement only for Buttiglione, or whether they will continue to insist on other changes.
Berlusconi said he realized the Buttiglione bid had reached the end of the line after talks Friday with Barroso and other EU leaders.
Buttiglione depicted himself as a victim of an "ably orchestrated campaign" because of his conservative views, but when pressed, didn't elaborate.
"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 told reporters.
"I know that I didn't introduce into the political sphere the concept of sin, which belongs to another sphere, that of religion and philosophy," Buttiglione said.
Italian news agency ANSA quoted Labor Minister Roberto Maroni as expressing little sympathy for his Cabinet mate. "To say that it's all the fault of a plot, of a campaign by the European press against him, frankly, seems unfair to me. I'd say that's Buttiglione's version of it," Maroni said.