Careful Frattini steers clear of controversy under MEP questioning
16.11.04 @ 07:20
BRUSSELS - The new Italian Commissioner nominee has emerged relatively unscathed from a hearing by MEPs in the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee.
Franco Frattini, who is to take up the justice and home affairs portfolio, steered clear of any controversial comments that may rock the boat before MEPs vote on the whole Commission on Thursday.
Although most of the questions focussed on the detail of the immigration policy, several MEPs did try and draw him out on his views on anti-discrimination - particularly concerning gender and sexual orientation.
It was on this issue that comments by the first Italian nominee, Rocco Buttiglione, caused such a furore to the extent that the new Commission team had to be re-shuffled and its 1 November start was delayed.
But Mr Frattini, an experienced politician, would only repeatedly say that he is now there "as a representative of Europe" and that he would be bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
He used a similar answer to the several questions concerning laws in Italy which restrict media pluralism - laws passed while he was in government.
"I will be defending the interests of Europe", said Mr Frattini adding that it would not be up to him as a Commissioner to defend the laws of one country.
Instead he argued that the Commission should make proposals that would "gradually overcome" the differences in approaches between member states.
'I am not a mason'
Mr Frattini, who has been both a public administration minister and a foreign minister, also made light of allegations by Mr Buttiglione that he is a freemason.
"I'm not a Mason. I have never been one", he stated.
He was more forthcoming with his views on religion and the state - a discussion that was sparked off in Europe by Mr Buttiglione, a devout Catholic, who compared MEPs' handling of him to the "inquisition".
"Secularity, as a value, is a pillar of any democracy", said Mr Frattini but he refused to actually condemn Mr Buttiglione's opinions that homosexuality is a sin or his ultra-conservative views on marriage.
"I do not think I can be expected to express condemnation or disapproval".
On the details of his portfolio, the Italian was clear on the idea of camps in third countries to process immigrants wanting to come to Europe.
He said the "cardinal principle" is that these third countries have signed up to the Geneva Convention on human rights.
However, he added that without common European laws protecting the rights of migrants "we can't even think about having detention centres".
This stance contrasted starkly with that of Mr Buttiglione who was strongly in favour of camps.