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Raphael Vassallo

The embryo in the room

Joseph Muscat claims that ‘abortion is not the issue’ with Tonio Borg’s nomination. He is wrong.

Raphael Vassallo
29 October 2012, 12:00am
Tonio Borg (right) with Lawrence Gonzi.
Joseph Muscat's reasoning on Tonio Borg's nomination as Commissioner-designate is entirely screwed. So is his party's astonishing decision to support the nomination, and to even lobby the EU parliament for an approval on November 13.

I honestly don't understand what's got into the Labour Party. Maybe its leader actually took himself seriously when he entreated us all to 'love each other' back in 2008. Or maybe he thought it was a good political strategy to confuse his own potential supporters in the liberal camp, by suddenly transforming into a Rocco Buttiglione look-like himself.

Either way, it doesn't look good on his own progressive and liberals credentials that he would not only fail to object, but actively back the nomination of the least progressive and liberal candidate Malta could possibly dig up in its collection of stuffy mothballed conservatives (and trust me, that's really saying something).

And worse still, he defends Tonio Borg on the one issue that will no doubt raise the most eyebrows in Europe: female reproductive health.

This on its own tells us a very great deal about Malta's intrinsic political problems. It tells us that we have allowed a handful of fanatics to transform the abortion issue into such a major psychological pitfall in this country, that even the supposedly 'progressive liberals' among us dare not even speak its name for fear of instant anathema.

Muscat's entire rhetoric is clearly infected with this delusion. He claims that "All Maltese don't agree with abortion" - which is completely untrue: I am Maltese, but like millions of other Europeans I agree with abortion, and I know several other Maltese people who think likewise - "and there is a consensus between [the PN and the PL] that we do not agree with abortion."

He added: "If it was about abortion, I doubt any Maltese individual would make the grade."

Wrong on all counts I'm afraid. Muscat makes the predictable mistake of assuming that objections to Borg's nomination concern his own personal pro-life views - which, if true, would imply that the EP would likewise object to any Commissioner-designate who happens to be pro-life.

Nonsense. John Dalli was pro-life, and this didn't derail his approval by the EP. Joe Borg was also pro-life: it arguably cost him the Development Aid Portfolio, true... but he still landed himself the Fisheries and Maritime Commission instead. Why? Because neither was as obsessive as Tonio Borg about the issue. It was, merely a personal view of theirs, which they never tried to force down our collective throats.

Not so Tonio Borg. The misgivings so far expressed by Greens, Liberals and Socialists (even some EPP members, from what I am told) have nothing to do with his private opinions. They are about his public statements and (even more so) his actions... which as everyone knows speak louder than words.

And Borg's actions have shouted at the top of their voices. Many MEPS were horrified to learn that the man proposed by Gonzi to administer the European health (!) portfolio not only firmly believes that women should be imprisoned for procuring an abortion ... but even spearheaded a campaign, in 2004, to entrench that same disgusting law into the Constitution... just to make sure that his own mediaeval views on the subject become permanently fossilized, and continue to be foisted, without discussion, on generations of future (unborn) citizens.

MEPs are perfectly justified in questioning the suitability for the Commission of the architect of such an outrageously misogynistic initiative. They are right to ask questions like: how will this person objectively handle female reproductive health issues (among them, access to safe abortions - which the EU funds throughout the developing world) when he himself disapproves even of the morning after pill, and aggressively defends his country's policy of treating people who use this contraceptive device as criminals? (Literally: the MAP qualifies as abortion in Malta, and any doctor who prescribes it, or woman who takes it, could face up to three years in jail).

And of course, Borg did not limit himself merely to expressing those opinions. He also turned his office at the ministry of home affairs into the campaign headquarters of his own Constitutional amendment proposal - i.e., using the budget (taxpayers' money) and resources allocated by government to his ministry to pursue a personal political objective.

Joseph Muscat overlooked all this in his haste to appear magnanimous and conciliatory on this occasion. But there is more. He also argued (incredibly) that because all three local political parties happen to agree on maintaining the above sordid and squalid status quo, it therefore logically follows that the European parliament will likewise find no objection.

Wrong, wrong, WRONG. Seriously: I am surprised Muscat needs reminding of this detail, but... the European Commission handles policies for ALL the EU (i.e, 50 million citizens) not just for the measly half million who reside in Malta. So when MEPs assess Tonio Borg, it will on the basis of how his appointment will impact the quality of health services enjoyed by all those 50 million European citizens... and not just us.

Even so, Muscat's own party only has three representatives in the EP to begin with: hardly enough to dictate policy at European level, especially on such a controversial issue. And yes, they might even succeed in persuading the Socialist bloc to approve Borg in the end. (In fact, this is what I believe will unfortunately happen.)

But if so, it would be not only be a black day for European women in general (not to mention homosexuals, and all the other minority groups that Borg has also succeeded in antagonizing over the years). It would also spell an instant end to Muscat's claims to head a movement of 'progressives and liberals' in this country.

Antoine Vella
You shoot yourself neatly in the foot (is it painful?) when you rant about "generations of future (unborn) citizens", because you are implying that the unborn have rights, which is a very Gift-of-Lifelike assertion. And another thing: why do pro-abortionists always look for euphemisms - interruption of pregnancy, pro-choice and now "women's health"?
Antoine Vella
Raphael, why do you make such a big deal of the Loony Left rejecting Tonio Borg? That's ok - I'm sure Tonio Borg can still manage to live happily knowing that they disapprove. They are not the real Europe, of course, but speak on behalf of a tiny fundamentalist minority and are over-represented in the EP because so many moderate persons do not bother to vote.
Antoine Vella
Raphael, why do you make such a big deal of the Loony Left rejecting Tonio Borg? That's ok - I'm sure Tonio Borg can still manage to live happily knowing that they disapprove. They are not the real Europe, of course, but speak on behalf of a tiny fundamentalist minority and are over-represented in the EP because so many moderate persons do not bother to vote.
Raphael Vassallo
No need to thank me for potted history, it;s what i got from your original comments anyway. Funny, though, how the institution you seem to think was established by the Spanish monarchy also managed to be present and active everywhere else in catholic Europe over the succeeding centuries. That suggests that all of Catholic europe, including Riome, was actually just a provice of Spain. Potted history, eh?
Mark Anthony Mifsud
Well Raphael, thanks for your potted history of the Spanish Inquisition. Still, it remains my understanding that the Spanish Inquisition was established by the Spanish Monarchy or at least at the monarchs’ request to the Pope. Certainly, it seems to have served the purpose of the monarchy. Your compunction about the proceedings in 2004 and 2005 does you credit. More is the irony that one so declaredly sensible to prejudice and discrimination should countenance the inquisitorial attitudes of the MEPs. For the record, I might point out that respect for Tonio Borg’s declared principles or values does not imply an automatic agreement with, or support for, his every action or statement, past, present or future. Speaking of support (or otherwise) brings us to my alleged defence of Torquemada. When you consider that I questioned Torquemada’s principles (that are not necessarily my own) and condemned his methods (that are manifestly not my own), the allegation rather defies understanding, my own at least. Finally, Raphael, the fact that a person might not agree with you on all issues does not automatically render that person a supporter of repressive torturers or murderers.
Raphael Vassallo
Mark: I have just been informed that the 'man of principle' you admire so much is currently busy trying to persuade MEPs that his 'principles'were actually all put on for the local audience. Tonio Borg is telling MEPs that he didnl;t really mean all that stuff about entrenching abortion laws... he only did it to humour local ignorance and satisfy a national thirst for fundamentalism. Some principles, huh?
Raphael Vassallo
Well, Mark, either your memory is failing you or you were not in malta in 2004/5. And no, you are clearly not an expert on spanish history. Let's start with Torquemada. Considering your defence of TB, it doesn;t surprise me in the least that you would also defend the most uncompromising Chief Inquisitor in history. So now the 'consolidation of the Spanish nascent state' was responsible for the excesses of the Inquisition? Rubbish. The Inquisition was not even answerable to the Spanish State. It was answerable directly to Rome. Onto Joseph mcCarthy now: in actual fact what he did was lead a charge to identify and hound out of office (out of the country, in some cases) anyone whom he considered to be a Communist. Tonio Borg did almost exactly the same thing, only it wasn;t Communists he was after, but people who are pro-choice. His tactics were also identical... he tried to flush them all out into the open, so that he could turn public opinion (successfully, in your case) against them. Meanwhile it is perfectly typical of the persecutor to portray himself as persecuted... there is a long tradition of this, and it ultimately boils down to the political reversal of values that George Orwell so famously summed up in 'war is peace' and 'freedom is slavery'. In TB's case the motto is 'hateful persecutors are victims'. The tactic has proved immensely successful in malta, and from your comments I can see why, too
Mark Anthony Mifsud
Steady on Raphael, I’m not one for the rack! One might contend that Torquemada’s principles were compromised by the agenda of the Spanish monarchy, which was busily consolidating a nascent Spanish (or at least Castilian) state, but then I’m no expert on Spanish history. Certainly, we would agree that his methods were objectionable (to say the least), though probably par for the course in those (not so) good old days. As for Joseph McCarthy, I seem to remember that he was a rather hysterical senator who was exceedingly intolerant of people who did not share his value system and sought to freeze them out of jobs, careers and positions of responsibility. Actually, that sounds remarkably like what you are expecting the MEPs to do to Dr Tonio Borg, effectively because he is a traditional Catholic. By the way, I am reasonably aware that the Maltese do not vote for the EU Commissioners, though I’m not quite sure who (if anyone) does. There’s a fellow on YouTube who does rather rant on about it, presenting it as evidence of the “democratic deficit” in the EU. Nevertheless, when I spoke of electorate, I did mean the local electorate… After all, a general election is on the cards and having a candidate who clearly declares his position and his values is almost invigorating.
Raphael Vassallo
Miffy - the Maltese electorate does not vote for EU Commissioners (which is probabyl just as well). Meanwhile Torquemada was also a man of sound principles - by your definition, at any rate. So was Joseph McCarthy.
Raphael Vassallo
Miffy - the Maltese electorate does not vote for EU Commissioners (which is probabyl just as well). Meanwhile Torquemada was also a man of sound principles - by your definition, at any rate. So was Joseph McCarthy.
Mark Anthony Mifsud
Good Heavens, Raphael! You’ve gone to great lengths to present Dr Tonio Borg as a man of sound principles; possibly not principles you might agree with, but principles none the less. Jolly nice of you to remind the electorate that he is worthy of some respect.
Mark Anthony Mifsud
Good Heavens, Raphael! You’ve gone to great lengths to present Dr Tonio Borg as a man of sound principles; possibly not principles you might agree with, but principles none the less. Jolly nice of you to remind the electorate that he is worthy of some respect.
Dominic Chircop
Perhaps many people may not know that the E.U. is presently financing research in stem cell surgery. Is Dr Tonio Borg ready to put aside his reservations on this matter ? Or will he tell MEP's that he is an avid hater of embryo freezing ? Shame on you Joseph Muscat !!
daniel li
Tonio Borg is not capable of representing Malta at a flea market let alone in any European Commission .
GRACE PAVIA
How to demolish an appointee in one short essay.