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Barraso defends delay in EU vote

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Barroso defends delay in EU vote

STRASBOURG, France -- The incoming head of the European Commission has defended his decision to delay a vote on his embattled executive team, saying he was confident he could find support for a new team.

Jose Manuel Barroso, who postponed Wednesday's vote to avoid an embarrassing defeat in the European Parliament, said he planned to make "necessary and sufficient changes" to the executive within a few weeks.

"I believe that stopping the clock is the best way to find a solution in the best interest of Europe and its people," Barroso told a news conference.

"I think we can submit a strong team with broad support.... My intention is to change what is necessary and sufficient," he said.

The 732-member assembly had been set to vote on the new 24-member commission, but Barroso was unable to convince enough lawmakers to give him the simple majority he needed to win approval.

Barroso faced strong opposition over his proposed justice commissioner, Italian Rocco Buttiglione, who offended many lawmakers with his conservative views on homosexuality, marriage and women.

The European Parliament can only vote to accept or reject the entire commission and not individual members.

"If a vote was taken today, the outcome would not be positive," Barroso told parliament earlier on Wednesday. "In these circumstances, I have decided not to submit a new commission for your approval today."

"I need more time to look at this issue and to consult with the council and with you ... It is better to take more time to get it right."

However, Barroso later declined to tell reporters if new people would be considered for the executive or if the existing line-up would be reshuffled.

Barroso was expected to hold joint talks Wednesday with the leaders of the three largest political factions, the center-right European People's Party, the Socialists and the Liberals, The Associated Press reported.

He does not have the power to name his own cabinet, just assign portfolios to candidates sent by their governments.

The decision to delay the vote came after Barroso held a last-ditch meeting with Socialist floor leader Martin Schulz, whose 200-strong group demanded Buttiglione be replaced.

Socialist officials had estimated 362 legislators would have voted against the commission, compared to 345 in favor.

"He's done the numbers and knows he doesn't have a majority," AP quoted Denmark's Jens Peter Bonde, co-leader of the anti-EU Independence and Democracy group, as saying.

EU leaders will gather in Rome on Friday to sign the constitution, which still faces referendums before it can take effect.

"Basically, he has to go back to the drawing board... to have another go at it,: said CNN European Editor Robin Oakley. "It's not a crisis or a complete disaster. It's a mess and it's a humiliation."

It was unclear when the vote would be rescheduled. The current session ends Thursday, and the next is set for the week of November 15.

Barroso, who has already been approved as president, and his executive were to take office Monday, November 1.

If the delay stretches beyond the weekend, outgoing Commission President Romano Prodi was expected to lead a caretaker team until a new one has been approved.

"It's unlikely that anything serious will happen until November 15 when the Parliament meets again," Oakley said. "The commission can't take up office until it's been approved by parliament."

Meanwhile, Italian newspapers reported Wednesday that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, under pressure from Barroso, had urged Buttiglione to withdraw to save Barroso's team.

But Buttiglione refused to step aside, Corriere della Sera and La Stampa reported.

Buttiglione's spokesman, however, categorically denied that anyone had pressed him to quit. "There were no talks of Buttiglione resigning," he told Reuters.

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