Borg: a suitable candidate?
Ahead of Tonio Borg’s hearing on his candidature for the position of EU commissioner for health, there have been strong suggestions that his strongly-held personal views make him an unsuitable nominee.
The commissioner-designate will go before the European parliament’s health committee on 13 November to face questions on his political views, and whether or not he will be an acceptable replacement for John Dalli, who resigned in controversial circumstances in October. The full parliament will vote on his appointment the following week.
MEPs and civil society organisations have complained that his ultra-conservative Catholic views will interfere with the effective running of the health portfolio, a brief that also share some cross-competencies with development.
Speaking on the evening before his parliamentary hearing, MEPs Sophia in’t Veld (Liberal) and Franziska Brantner (Green), accompanied by representatives of civil society organisations, warned of the consequences of appointing Borg. Both MEPs said his previous behaviour as a minister in Malta is proof that his personal views dictate his policy decisions. Furthermore, they argue that his viewpoints generally are not consistent with EU values. In 2004, Rocco Buttiglione nomination as justice commissioner was knocked-back by the parliament over his views on women’s rights and homosexuality.
His detractors are keen not to make their opposition appear as somehow anti-religion, a point Sophia in’t Veld was quick to make at a press conference on 12 November. The question, she said, was not about judging Borg, but about whether Europe “is willing to trust” his judgement in doing his job.
That job will be as health commissioner; he is to slot into the vacant position left by Dalli, with no indication of a reshuffle indicated from European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso. A joint statement issued by a number of concerned organisations, such as ILGA Europe and Catholics for Choice, urged Barroso to withdraw Borg’s nomination, and which stated that the candidates “long-term, dedicated consistent actions, statements, campaigns and voting records conveyed as ‘issues of conscience’ aimed at introducing and implementing policies and practices reflecting his views are not compatible with the fundamental principles and values of the European union and would prevent him from being an impartial Commissioner”.
Catholics for Choice also released a factsheet on Tonio Borg documenting is public statements and influence on Maltese legislation during his time as a minister. The European Parliament’s intergroup on LGBT rights has also been lobbying members behind the scenes, urging a rejection of Borg’s nomination based on his attitudes to sexuality, abortion, IVF and divorce.
Prior to the hearing, most of the big personalities have resisted weighing into the debate, with group leaders generally not keen to be seen as taking sides at this time, although Socialist group president, Hannes Swoboda is reportedly against Borg’s appointment. According to Sophia in’t Veld, the Liberals are also keenly against the appointment, but the group leadership has not been forthcoming with any position, perhaps, like the Greens, adopting a more sensible ‘wait and see’ policy.
Joseph Daul, EPP group leader (the biggest in parliament) has also not issued a statement. Instead, the group’s defence of Borg (also from the EPP) has come instead from Peter Liese, who himself carries strongly religious views, a point made with some indiscretion by opponents of Borg, and which undermines somewhat the contention that religion has no part in the debate.
The full parliament will vote on the appointment at the November plenary by secret ballot. At this point, his nomination looks like being accepted, but, taking into account his performance before the health committee, this may change. His opponents want him to be bold in defence of his views, arguing that it will undermine his credibility. Borg himself knows he is under a more than usual amount of pressure; but, as an assured performance should guarantee success, a wavering one might leave the field open.
This article was originally published by New Europe.