By Martin Banks - 12th November 2012
Borg needs to set the record straight
Pressure is mounting on parliament to reject approval of Tonio Borg as the new EU health commissioner.
Several organisations have joined forces saying that Borg is "unfit" to replace his compatriot John Dalli on the executive.
Dalli recently quit amid accusations that he may have known about a possible attempt by an associate to alter EU tobacco legislation in return for payment.
Now the man who has been nominated by the Maltese authorities to fill the post also finds himself engulfed in controversy.
Borg, a government minister in Malta who is due to appear before MEPs at a nomination hearing in parliament on Tuesday, faces questions about his political record on abortion, homosexuality and immigration.
Among the various groups voicing concern is the Brussels-based European public health alliance (EPHA).
It says his nomination "raises questions on the compatibility of his personal beliefs and values, and his public duties as commissioner".
In a statement, the organisation said, "As a member of the Maltese government, Borg supported harsh anti-abortion provisions and fiercely opposed proposals to abolish prison terms for mothers who performed an abortion.
"He is also in favour of restrictions on pregnant women's ability to travel outside Malta if they are suspected to seek abortion services overseas."
EPHA also said that, regardless of the hearings outcome, it will call on the commission to release "without further delay" the tobacco product directive from its "current deadlock".
There are fears that the change of commissioner will delay or even halt adoption of the draft law, which seeks to introduce new controls on tobacco.
The EPHA statement said, "The complex political process leading to the appointment of a health commissioner is further delaying the release of the overdue directive.
"We would like to repeat our call on the commission and José Manuel Barroso to release the directive in the interests of public health and transparency irrespective of the result of the hearing of commissioner-designate Borg.
"EPHA calls on interim commissioner [Maroš] Šefcovic to immediately release the directive into interservice consultation - something that could have been done months ago, but for undisclosed reasons, has been repeatedly postponed."
Several MEPs have also expressed reservations over Borg's nomination, with Dutch ALDE deputy Sophie in't Veld saying, "Like all citizens, Borg is fully entitled to his own views and we would not expect him to abandon them.
"Commissioners are politicians, so their views are highly relevant to their future portfolio. This is why during the hearing on Tuesday we will ask Borg about his agenda for public health.
"Parliament has repeatedly expressed itself on policies including LGBT rights and sexual and reproductive health rights; we want a commissioner who will work with parliament to deliver those policies."
Further comment came from UK Socialist Michael Cashman, who said that Borg's views are "incompatible with holding a high EU office".
Cashman added, "The commission makes laws and policies for 500 million Europeans with diverse lives, opinions and values
"Borg needs to set the record straight and reassure parliament that his values won't obstruct neutral policymaking."
Dutch GUE member Dennis de Jong said, "Like colleagues, I shall certainly ask Borg a number of highly critical questions on women's and LGBT rights. I think the commission should stand for the protection of universal fundamental rights."
Meanwhile, in a written reply to MEPs' questions ahead of the meeting, Borg attempts to defend his nomination.
In answer to one question, he says, "During my different political roles in Malta I have learned and appreciated the crucial importance of transparency towards the parliament, and I would continue in this vein towards the European parliament."
He adds, "I fully subscribe to strong inter-institutional cooperation as it is important not only to ensure high-quality and rapid decision making, but also to strengthen the legitimacy and accountability of public governance.
"I commit to fully implement the provisions of the framework agreement regarding greater openness to improve transparency and enhance the flow of information between the parliament and the commission."
Without referring directly to the tobacco directive, he says, "Considering the limited remaining time until the end of this parliament, an important focus of my mandate would be to ensure delivery of ongoing or forthcoming legislative proposals.
"I stand ready therefore to engage into a close and ongoing dialogue with parliament, its committees and its members on these proposals."