‘Borg of the EU’ gives confident performance in Brussels

Tonio Borg shows good grasp of health and consumer policy portfolio in three-hour hearing where MEPs also question his socially conservative beliefs.

Tonio Borg was well-prepared for his three-hour hearing before MEPs.
Tonio Borg was well-prepared for his three-hour hearing before MEPs.

Our live-blog from the EP hearing

A confident performance by foreign minister Tonio Borg yesterday at the European Parliament saw him overcome a tough, three-hour grilling by MEPs which tested him on his general competence of the health and consumer affairs portfolio but also on his past statements on same-sex and women's rights as well as safe abortions.

Borg clearly impressed MEPs with his general grasp of his portfolio, fielding questions on health matters, clinical trials, GMOs, animal welfare, consumer safety and rights, and agricultural matters.

But there was also an evident metamorphosis: the 'Borg of the EU' told MEPs he would "not be the Maltese commissioner... I will be the European Commissioner appointed by Malta", allaying fears raised by NGOs ahead of his hearing over his conservative views.

The commissioner-designate's delivery was confident and sincere, although he was hard pressed on issues concerning past pronouncements on rights for same-sex couples: he boasted of his human rights record as a lawyer, saying he co-authored a cohabitation bill that will give rights to same-sex partnerships; and he pledged to safeguard the EU treaties' anti-discrimination provisions.

He also expressed support for justice commissioner Viviane Reding's bid to introduce a 40% quota for women on publicly listed company boards, something that the Maltese government - with him as deputy prime minister - opposed.

"I will abide by the Treaty, I will abide the Charter of Fundamental Rights," Borg told MEPs, but defended himself vigorously on questions related to sexual and reproductive health that dealt with the matter of safe and legal abortion. Borg insisted he was publicly against abortion but had never declared that women who go abroad to seek abortions 'were doing something wrong'.

The commissioner-designate also insisted that an issue like abortion was squarely in the hands of member states. "I did not make these Treaties, they have been sanctioned by the member states. We are not a federation but a sui generis kind of organisation of sovereign states... some areas are in the hands of member states to decide. Each one of us has their own personal views. God forbid that we should be regimented in thinking one way, but I shall abide by the Treaties and I won't interfere in programmes that already exist because it will be illegal for me to do so."

Borg also made his mark on the Tobacco Products Directive, the controversial anti-smoking legislation championed by his predecessor John Dalli, who back in Malta was being questioned by the Commissioner of Police on the contents of the OLAF investigation that had brought about his resignation over an alleged bribe connected to tobacco laws.

In fact Borg said he favoured member states to retain the option whether to introduce the controversial plain packaging rules for tobacco products.

"There has to be something on packaging that must be effective. Tobacco products should look like tobacco products... What I would favour is to leave member states individually free to introduce the plain packaging rather than imposing it upon them. But this is my personal view. The bill can become stronger, and I would be against weakening the current TPD."

Reactions

Critics who called for the rejection of Tonio Borg over his 'outdated and conservative views' also took heart from the commissioner-designate's pledge to work closely with MEPs and to abide by the European treaties and fundamental rights of the Charter.

"It is evident that Borg has put out a smart performance giving a good basis for us to look forward to work with him if he is elected," Juris Lavrikovs, a spokesperson for the International Gay-Lesbian Bisexual Association told MaltaToday.

Echoing statements by other MEPs like Dennis de Jong, who questioned Borg on same-sex issues, Lavrikovs said Borg left some room for interpretation whether he supports or not the adoption of the EU's anti-discrimination directive that will harmonise provisions across the EU.

"What we wish for now is that MEPs bear in mind not just the fine performance he gave today, but to take a holistic approach to his election, which was one of the reasons we wanted to raise awareness about his actions and past record, which are very worrying and made our organisations call for his rejection. It is now up to MEPs to take the right decision."

While the Greens have already said they would not be supporting Borg, MEP Chris Davies of the Alliance of Liberal Democrats said his grouping did not feel "Borg [was] suited to the portfolio for which he has been nominated" and that he did "not do enough to assuage fears on social issues."

The European People's Party also said Borg had proved to be a solid candidate for the post of European Commissioner. "His performance during the hearing demonstrated that he is fully prepared to take on the responsibilities of the Health and Consumer Policy portfolio. We trust that he will do a good job", an EPP vice-chairperson Corien Wortmann-Kool MEP, said.

Next steps

MEPs at next week's plenary in Strasbourg will vote on Borg's performance after the chairs of the committees on environment (covering health and food issues), consumer protection and agriculture will consult with political group coordinators and each other on their impressions and recommendations immediately after the hearing.

Parliament's Conference of Committee Chairs will meet on Wednesday and the Conference of Presidents on Thursday, before the whole House votes on a resolution to give their non-binding verdict next week in Strasbourg.

While his political grouping, the European People's Party has pledged support for his nomination, Borg's effective election depends on a strong show of support by the Socialists & Democrats grouping.

On Monday Borg was reported to have given reassurances to socialist MEP Michael Cashman, the president of the LGBT-rights intergroup, that his personal views would not affect his legislative activity.

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I would consider this 3 hour exercise as having a nice cup of tea in a drawing room discussion, everyone behaving very courteously and very politely as if the answers would not make any real difference, and expecting nothing else but political rhetoric in a lawyer's way with words. If this grilling was considered tough, then the word should be redefined. << >> Come to think of it, that would be a way to export our services! Why not send some of our senior parliamentarians and some of our police officers to do the grilling. If this was "grilling", no wonder the EU budget is in its abysmal condition and they want an 8% increase imsieken.
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A sound performance and an accomplished rheotoric. On this basis of the assessment, Mr. Borg said all the right things and been convincing enough to get the nod. On the other hand, one cannot overlook his curriculum vitae and although he is pro EU does not mean he has embraced the European Principles. His stand against minorities speaks volume and he still voted against divorce on principle although the Maltese had overwhelmingly voted for it. This gentleman says he will uphold the European Charter on human rights and freedom of choice even at the expense of his own beliefs. Now this is indeed a novelty and yet his track record says volumes. I believe that Mr. Borg had already been overwhelmingly endorsed as commissioner by the major fractions in the EC even before this grilling (although slow fry is a better word ) but that is politics for you. I sincerely hope that the European Experience will be eye opener for Mr. Borg and he will learn something from it and contribute accordingly.
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Bravo Dr Tonio Borg, it was a five star performance ! It was also a vertiginous show of conscience funambulism !! Even Lou Bondi caught you out !!!
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Jesus Christ was sold for 39 pieces of Silver. How much is Our New Health Commissioner who boast about his fervent Catholic Principles is going to get for being a Commissioner in a Club where murder is being legalised? When a person kills someone else he is punished because civilised laws states so and I fully agree. Then how come an unborn baby who cannot defend himself is being allowed to be murdered? What fault does this unborn baby have? Did he/she asked anyone to bring him/her in this world? Abortion is just another murder whether carried in Malta, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Russia, USA, Mars or Jupiter. Is “killing” another person entrenched in any Constitution, any Religion or Human Right? When some country is about to murder some person, the whole world stands up and protest, and then this civilised world “Legalise Abortion” to those who cannot stand up for their rights. What a SHAME on the so called Human race! The Commissioner for Health is there for every ones health including and especially those who cannot defend themselves. What sense does it make when we have IVF for those who cannot have a baby and then those who can have a baby we legalise abortion? In my honest opinion Dr Tonio Borg SOLD his Principles for the Title of “Commissioner” My faith and thrust is diminishing by the minute both in the EU Club as well as in our so called politicians who boast of civilised principals. What principles ???????
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Luke Camilleri
Quite a nice RED tie Dr. Tonio Borg is wearing! Dressed for the occasion with a RED TIE even if his Party and GonziPN 's Choice is stating that RED IS NOT IN FASHION, and Joe Muscat wears a blue tie! RED seems to be in fashion or is it just Toniosaurus's choice of colour and not GonziPN's????