Thursday, October 28, 2004


The decision by the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee to reject the nomination of Rocco Buttiglione as European Commissioner for Justice and Security over his comments on homosexuality and marriage is very unfortunate. At best it looks like a case of political correctness gone mad, at worst an anti-Catholic (and anti-Berlusconi) bias among certain left-wing circles in the European Parliament.

Mr Buttiglione, the former Italian Minister for Europe, is a devout Catholic and a close friend of the Pope. During his questioning by the parliamentary committee he was asked whether he thought homosexuality was a sin. His reply was that he might think that homosexuality was a sin but this would have absolutely no bearing on his policies as a Commissioner, because in any case he certainly did not consider it to be a crime.

One may or may not agree with Mr Buttiglione's reply - perhaps he could have been more diplomatic - but this is certainly no reason to reject his nomination. Mr Buttiglione is entitled to his Catholic views, he is entitled to believe in a Europe of values and he is entitled to be loyal to his conscience.

Candidates should be rejected as Commissioners if they are incompetent, bigoted or hold extremist or anti-democratic views. This is certainly not the case with Mr Buttiglione who is balanced, moderate, level-headed and very intelligent. Why should he be penalised because he holds traditional Catholic views and has the courage to admit this?......

Although the European Parliament cannot prevent any one particular Commissioner-designate from taking office - it has to veto the entire team - the rejection of Mr Buttiglione is a serious blow to Commission President-designate Jos‚ Manuel Barroso who has repeatedly said that he has full confidence in his whole team of Commissioners.

Mr Barroso said that his Commission will be both tolerant and liberal on social issues, and that tolerance should be shown to Mr Buttiglione. "The same tolerance we should apply to different views," he added.

The Socialist Group, however, has already said that it is willing to reject the entire Commission if Mr Barroso insists on keeping Mr Buttiglione. Mr Barroso can decide to call Parliament's bluff - after all, the Socialists alone cannot veto the Commission, as they do not command a parliamentary majority and would need the support of other political groups to reject the entire team. Such a majority is unlikely, but possible. If it does come to this, then it will be a sad day for Europe, a day when political correctness exceeded all limits.... Europe is secular but people should not be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. It will be a sad day for Europe if some compromise is not reached.

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Another comment on the same matter:

The only person so far to have come out of the demeaning fracas in Strasbourg with any credit is Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the incoming President of the European commission. His principled insistence that he "cannot surrender to a culture of intolerance" is a fitting reply to the baying in the European Parliament for the removal of Rocco Buttiglione from the justice and home affairs portfolio in the commission. Senhor Barroso has already done more than he need to defuse the crisis. He has promised to set up a panel to share responsibility with the commissioner for fighting racial and sexual prejudice; he has distanced himself from Signor Buttiglione's ill-conceived call for transit camps in North Africa for asylum-seekers; and he has said that his team is ready to meet the views of Parliament halfway.

In the end, however, Senhor Barroso has been forced, like Martin Luther, to declare: "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise." To remove Signor Buttiglione at this stage would not only, as he said, create more problems than it resolved; it would be a capitulation to the prejudice and ambition of MEPs riding a crest of political correctness to raise their own deservedly low profile, bolster their weak claims to be taken seriously and score points in a grudge match against certain EU member states and their leaders, in particular Silvio Berlusconi.

Certainly, none of the MEPs seeking to reject the entire commission can justify such an extreme step on the basis of their aversion to Signor Buttiglione's views. The Italian nominee is a senior, respected politician. A convinced Roman Catholic, he holds views on homosexuality and the role of women in the home that are controversial but in accordance with his religious views. But he has made it perfectly clear that he would do his job according to EU human rights legislation rather than his personal beliefs. He can certainly be accused of insensitivity and lack of political nous.

The suspicion must arise that Martin Schulz, the German Socialist group leader notorious for goading Signor Berlusconi into his ridiculous outburst last year, sees the Buttiglione row as a cheap way of humiliating the Italian Prime Minister. For Herr Schulz to use "tolerance" as a cover for intolerance is intolerable.

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Public safety fears have stumped one of cricket's greatest feats: the six. Amateur cricketers at two eastern Melbourne suburban grounds will be penalised for hitting a six under a Boroondara Council rule. The risk of cricket balls hitting bystanders and the likelihood of lawsuits have prompted the change, which is being adopted by more than 100 Eastern Cricket Association teams. The dead ball rule is to stop cricketers hitting sixes over certain boundaries at Canterbury Sports Ground and Dorothy Laver Reserve East, Glen Iris. Cricketers will not receive any runs and the ball will not be re-bowled.

Eastern Cricket Association secretary manager Rod Patterson said the rule was a necessary change to prevent injuries and lawsuits. "Unfortunately, in this day and age we have a litigious society and council is concerned they may get sued if they allow cricket balls to come out of the park," Mr Patterson said. "We're also concerned." Mr Patterson said there had been some surprise from clubs when told about the new rule. "We've explained to our clubs why we're doing this. Our clubs have accepted that," he said.

Boroondara city works director John Nevins said while the council was not aware of any cricket ball injuries to date, there had been near misses. "A resident wrote to us during last cricket season saying they'd been walking with their baby along the street of the southern boundary of the Canterbury Sports Ground, when a cricket ball landed near the pram." Mr Nevins said a study of Boroondara's 60-odd grounds found only two high-risk grounds. He said he could only speculate about the financial consequences of a lawsuit after an injury. "Cricket is a really significant community activity here in Boroondara," Mr Nevins said. "Nobody wants anybody to be hurt. We know there is a risk. As a responsible council we need to act appropriately."

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