Pääsisivätkö EU:n perustajaisät enää komissaareiksi?
This article was originally published in Die Welt (Germany) on Friday, 5 November 2004.
"I shoulder all the blame myself"
Rocco Buttiglione the would-be European Commissioner, who ended up sparking a fierce controversy talks to Die Welt on his failed candidacy, homosexuality and Catholics in Europe.
by Paul Badde
Rocco Buttiglione (56) is a convinced Catholic, a philosopher and lawyer. He is fluent in seven languages, including German, and a close friend of Pope John Paul II. He is also a member of the Catholic lay movement Comunione e Liberazione, founded in 1954. In July 2004, the Italian Minister for European Affairs was put forward for the post of European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs. With almost certain defeat in the European Parliament, Mr Barroso, the designated Commission President, withdrew his team just before the vote. Paul Badde spoke with Rocco Buttiglione.
DIE WELT : You look relaxed. Are you happy that it is all over?
Rocco Buttiglione : I am neither happy nor resigned. I wanted to be a European Commissioner. I believe in the future of Europe and think I could have made an important contribution. What is more important, however, is that I have made people talk again about conscience in political terms. People should know that (at least some) politicians have a conscience.
DIE WELT : Are you now the only one left with this view?
Buttiglione : No, or are you trying to say that no one in Europe believes in the family any more ? If there are no families in a society, no children will be born and the society will be destroyed. Therefore, it is clear to me that a single woman can only bring up children alone with difficulty. Children also need a father figure. The woman needs a man to share the burden of the childrens growing needs.
DIE WELT : But what about single mothers ?
Buttiglione : They are heroes : nowadays it is so easy to get an abortion. If a woman decides to keep the child and bring it up on her own, her actions are of great moral value.
DIE WELT : And what about children who are brought up by homosexual men or women, which is now a possibility in Europe ?
Buttiglione : Under current European law, this is not a matter for the European Union. It is a matter for the individual Member States to decide, not the EU. It is therefore unfair to be asked such questions in a Parliament hearing. Most European countries believe that a child should have a mother and a father. Many experts agree that every child needs a father. I do not want to comment on that. I would only say that it is the responsibility of the Member States. However, I am very concerned that this personal attack on me could lead to a violation of the existing laws in this field in an attempt to force countries to change their laws on the family and marriage. That would be terrible, as it would strengthen the idea of a European super-state, which we all say we do not want. These rights must remain at the Member State level, as is the case in the United States.
DIE WELT : If you could turn the clock back three weeks, would you do anything differently ?
Buttiglione : I would speak less to journalists, particularly the dishonest ones.
DIE WELT : But the journalists were not responsible for your downfall ; you came to grief before the European Parliament.
Buttiglione : …where I did not start talking about sins. This term should not be discussed in the political arena, but rather in philosophical or theological seminars.
DIE WELT: Nevertheless, you allowed yourself to be enticed to address Parliament as though you were giving a seminar. Why did you not resist the temptation?
Buttiglione : I did resist, or at least I tried to. What I actually said was "I may think that homosexuality is a sin. But that must not influence my politics as I am not saying that homosexuality is a crime." I do not even believe that homosexuality is truly a sin. In my view, it is more an objectively irregular state. A sin has an element of subjectivity and only God knows about the exact situation of individual human beings. In any case, sinning is not a matter for the courts of law. If all sinners were to be punished by the State, then the whole of humanity would be in prison, which is completely nonsensical. In the world of politics, however, the principal of non-discrimination applies and I fully defend this.
DIE WELT : In Strasbourg, Daniel Cohn-Bendit made a name for himself as your prosecutor. But you remained silent. Was there anything more you wanted to ask him?
Buttiglione : I was in Brussels to answer questions, not to ask them. I did ask myself, of course, whether Mr Cohn-Bendit really believes what he said. I was more disturbed, however, by those who eventually had to admit that they could not accuse me of discrimination. But that was not enough for them. They claim more and offensive pro-active action, being pro-active by being on the offensive, whatever pro-active is supposed to mean. That we should promote homosexuality or grant privileges to homosexuals ? That is not part of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
DIE WELT: Doesnt the fact that you belong to the Catholic movement Comunione e Liberazione make it awkward and inappropriate for you to take up public office ?
Buttiglione : Is the Comunione e Liberazione something of a strange power in Europe? Should all its members be considered inferior beings? I grew up in this movement. Later I fell out with my friends. Now I can only say that I am proud of it. I have learnt a lot of valuable things there, in particular the ability to appreciate the values of each individual, not to discriminate against anybody and to always remember that we are all sinners in Gods eyes and can be saved through Jesus Christ.
DIE WELT : Do you think that Europes animosities towards Prime Minister Berlusconi were to blame for your rejection ?
Buttiglione : Of course it played a role and it is dangerous. The European Union has an internal balance in which Parliament is supposed to respect the responsibilities of the Member States. Ministers of unpopular governments should not be prevented from becoming Commissioners: that would be a violation of a Member States rights. That is why I resigned to prevent any further damage. I shouldered all the blame to prevent Europe from having to deal with this question of principle.
DIE WELT : Martin Schulz observed that Italy has "quite simply a racist government". What is your reaction as a member of that government ?
Buttiglione : He has not produced any evidence to back up his remarks. We are not racists. We believe in human rights, equality and non-discrimination. Such comments, however, are clear evidence of the gravity of the current crisis.
DIE WELT: Germany observes the many accusations against Silvio Berlsuconi and his manoeuvres to avoid prosecution for them with much surprise and displeasure. You also worked on the immunity law that is protecting your Prime Minister from prosecution.
Buttiglione : I did a lot to balance out this law. It has not influenced the proceedings against Mr Berlusconi. Our immunity law is now more or less the same as those in all other European countries. The division of powers implies that one power cannot be threatened by the other. That is why all the other states have immunity laws. The Italian one is no better or worse than any other.
DIE WELT: Now that you have resigned, can we say that the Buttiglione affair is over ?
Buttiglione : I hope that the injustice I had to suffer remains an isolated case. If not, we would be faced with a crisis. In my case, there were two main issues: first, does a practising Catholic with Catholic beliefs have the right to be a Commissioner; and second, does the European Parliament have a right to veto a governments choice for Commissioner ? The Commission is no ordinary government. Whereas at the national level, governments are chosen by parliaments ; at the European level, the right to form the government does not lie with the European Parliament, but with the Member States. Thus, in the Commission, people with different views on important political issues have to work together. That is what is laid down in the Convention.
DIE WELT: What advice would you give to Alcide de Gasperi if he were to be sent to Brussels as Justice Commissioner ?
Buttiglione : If you apply the same criteria that were used against me, he would probably also have been kicked out as would Adenauer and Schuman. If I am no longer tolerable as a Commissioner, then the founding fathers would hardly be tolerable either.
DIE WELT: With EU enlargement, the percentage of Catholics in the EU has risen to about 58%. Can you really say that you are part of a persecuted minority ?
Buttiglione: I am not saying that. All humans have the right to freedom of conscience ; it is not just Catholics that have a conscience. These rights must be ensured for everybody, including Protestants and people who have no religion. I have been particularly moved by the solidarity of Jews, Muslims and agnostics. As far as minorities are concerned, I must stress that there are some that are organised very strictly and keep trying to speak for the majority. Furthermore, all Europeans both Christians and non-Christians alike have experienced the same conflicts : the old struggle between Christianity and paganism is part of Europes identity. Many people therefore try desperately to cover their ears as soon as they here the word sin. They dont want to hear the word. But if it did not matter to them, they would not be so agitated about the idea that there could be something sinful inside them. Europes Christian roots have not been completely uprooted.
DIE WELT: Do you think we are heading for a European Kulturkampf ? Or is it more a case of a clash of civilizations between the religious and secular worlds ?
Buttiglione : It is more of a Kulturkampf. And it could even have a positive influence if it helps us to understand our own identity more deeply. It is very useful if Europeans debate questions of conscience, religion and ethics even if the outcome was not very pleasant for me. And I hope, however, that this debate will continue.
DIE WELT: In 1762 Voltaire said, in reference to the Catholic Church, Écrasez l'infâme! (crush the infamy). As a philosopher yourself, do you see his wish now coming true ?
Buttiglione: Maybe. Definitely in some cases, but hopefully not with the majority. The majority would not accept that. And I personally like another, different Voltaire: the Voltaire that says, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".
This article was originally published in Die Welt (Germany) on Friday, 5 November 2004.