EU row candidate stands down

Italy's controversial European Commission nominee, Rocco Buttiglione, has said he is standing down as commissioner-designate.

"I am ready to stand aside to smooth the way for (the) commission," he said.

Mr Buttiglione faced opposition from the European Parliament over his views on homosexuality and women.

The incoming Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, earlier withdrew his proposed list of commissioners because of the dispute.

MEPs had threatened to veto the proposed commission if Mr Buttiglione stayed.

The EU parliament can only approve nominations for the 25-seat executive Commission as a whole.

Reading from a statement, Mr Buttiglione said he wished the Barroso commission every success because Europe needed a strong commission.

'Innocent victim'

His voice shaking with emotion, Mr Buttiglione said "I'm an innocent victim of an orchestrated campaign".

He said his views about gays had been misquoted, and he criticised the press for superficial coverage.

"I am not an adversary to human rights, I am a champion of them," he said.

He went on to thank Mr Barroso for having "defended me as much as possible".

The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said on Friday that Mr Buttiglione would most likely be replaced as Italy's nominee to the new commission.

The two men met to discuss the issue on Friday night.

Mr Buttiglione, a close friend of Pope John Paul II, will remain a minister in the Berlusconi government.

The BBC's chief political correspondent Guto Harri in Rome says there has been speculation that Foreign Minister Franco Frattini will be appointed to take on the job.

Mario Monti, a former Italian EU Commissioner, has also been frequently mentioned as a replacement and would be a popular choice, our correspondent says.

The issue of Mr Buttiglione's appointment to the commission overshadowed the signing of the EU constitution, in a lavish ceremony in Rome on Friday.

As the event progressed, Mr Barroso held hurried talks with EU leaders to seek support for his planned changes to the commission.