Michael Cashman (left) with Liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld.
Heartening signs that Tonio Borg will weather a 'liberal backlash' that took him to task over his conservative political views on rights for same-sex couples, have come from British socialist MEP Michael Cashman who said Borg might not deserve the fate of Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian nominee who was turned down for the post of justice commissioner.
Cashman, a gay MEP and head of the EP's LGBT-rights intergroup, said that in bilateral meetings held with Tonio Borg, the commissioner-designate had "given reassurances that his personal views would not affect his actions" as commissioner for health and consumer policy.
Cashman, who met Borg with S&D leader Hannes Swoboda, told the European Voice he was withholding his judgement until after today's three-hour hearing, where Borg will face some 150 MEPs from three parliamentary committees.
"I was pleasantly reassured that here was a senior politician taking the time and trouble to assure us that he would not be using his private and personal views by imposing them within the work that's coming to him with the commission college," Cashman told the European Voice.
"He's acutely aware of all the issues, and he's equally aware that he needs to reassure the parliament on these issues."
Cashman added that he saw Borg's nomination as different from Italy's nomination of Christian-democrat Rocco Buttiglione in 2004, rejected for conservative views on homosexuality.
"Buttiglione was unable to provide reassurances that his personal views would not affect his legislative activity. Borg has been working harder to provide this reassurance," Cashman told EV.
Borg on the other hand, claimed he had "evolved" on the issue of gay rights since comments he passed in the House in 2009 in which he refuted a Labour position to extend rent law reform rights to same-sex couples.
The issue is particularly a bone of contention for the LGBT intergroup's secretariat, whose pointed criticism of Borg's conservative views was picked up by several MEPs, including Liberal MEP Cecilia Wikström who dubbed Borg a "dinosaur".
Borg is reported to have told Cashman that "he had already identified bans on gay men giving blood as an issue of discrimination which he will work to rectify in his health portfolio."
The EV also reported Borg saying that he represented a far more conservative electorate in Malta than Europe as a whole, but his stances as a Commissioner would differ.
Liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld, who yesterday led a press conference to call for the rejection of Tonio Borg, said this was an illegitimate defence.
"I'm a bit surprised to hear that he would like to reassure people that he's not opposed to [abortion and gay rights]," she said. "I would actually find that quite astonishing. I would assume that if he holds strong views on those things, and if he claims, rightfully, the right to hold those views, that he will also stand by them."
With centre-right members of the parliament appearing ready to back Borg - over 280 MEPs at least - Borg can withstand the opposition of the Greens and the United Green Left and over 80 Liberal MEPs with the help of a positive socialist vote.
German Liberal MEP Nadja Hirsch has said she will oppose Borg's nomination on the basis of his treatment of Eritrean refugees while in the Maltese government. "Barroso has done no favours to propose in a hasty procedure Tonio Borg as a successor to the departing health commissioner Dalli," she said today. "He deported more than 200 Eritreans to Eritrea, where they were arrested and many were tortured."