‘Not my fault if MEPs don’t pass tobacco directive’ – Borg

Tonio Borg confident that controversial anti-smoking law will survive October plenary vote but says his job is done.

Tonio Borg - the fate of the Tobacco Products Directive is in the hands of MEPs
Tonio Borg - the fate of the Tobacco Products Directive is in the hands of MEPs

It's a wait-and-see game for the Tobacco Products Directive, the package of anti-smoking laws which will be debated on 8 October in the European Parliament.

But health and consumer policy commissioner Tonio Borg, who launched the proposed law in December 2012 after the resignation of John Dalli, says it's impossible for him to guarantee that the law will be passed as proposed.

Borg, in Malta today for the launch of the second phase of an EU-wide anti-smoking campaign, said it was up to MEPs and the member states to come to an agreement on the final package of laws after the debate in the European Parliament was delayed by a month, mainly due to the opposition from MEPs in Borg's political family, the EPP, and liberals ALDE and other conservative groups.

"What I promised was that I would launch the Tobacco Products Directive by the end of January," Borg said, when asked whether he could guarantee that the law would pass before the EU presidency passes over to Greece, which are not supporters of the law.

"The law garnered speed in the past six months. On 21 June the Council approved a common approach for the start of negotiations with MEPs, and for me this was a big victory, thanks to the Irish presidency.

"But what happens next, I don't know. The debate will take place on 8 October, and if it passes the chance are that under the current Lithuanian presidency the negotiations between MEPs and member states will see the proposed law passing."

Asked whether he had lobbied strongly enough with MEPs to stop the debate from being postponed, Borg said that hopes for the TPD entering into negotiations with the Council after October "were still strong".

"If it doesn't [pass] it won't be my fault of my predecessor's. It will be the fault of those who did not pass the directive. The Commission would have done its work."

Anti-smoking groups fear the directive, which proposes covering up 75% of the front and back of tobacco products with pictorial warnings, and a ban on flavourings and slim cigarettes, will be watered down in the October debate.

"Tell me if you find a law that ended the same way it started," Borg said when asked whether the Tobacco Products Directive will still retain its punch. "My proposed directive was the same as it started... the art of compromise is inherent in every law."

On 5 September, the heads of political groups in the European Parliament postponed the debate and vote on the Tobacco Products Directive to 8 October, in a move which anti-tobacco groups claimed was down to the interference of the tobacco industry.

In July 2013, the EP's committee on health ENVI adopted a strong position on the directive and pushed for a plenary vote on 10 September so that the European Parliament can start negotiations with the Council of the EU to allow the adoption of the directive before the May 2014 elections.

But a month-long delay could significantly reduce the time for negotiations.

Additionally, a large number of amendments to the law have now been proposed for the plenary vote, including amendments to reduce the size of health warnings to 50% rather than 75%, of pack surface, and to extend exemptions from the ban on flavours and slim cigarettes.

Confidential documents seen by British newspaper The Observer revealed how Philip Morris International (PMI) employed 161 people to combat the proposed directive. As a result, time is running out to introduce the directive before January when the presidency passes from Lithuania, which is pro-regulation, to Greece, which is opposed to tobacco control.

Well said falzonalfred6!
I always thought that Tonio Borg had a mind of his own. How come Cecilia Malmstrom- the immigration commissioner-does not loose a minute to impose her will upon EU members( especially little Malta)when it comes to 'her' vision of who is responsible for illegal immigrants,in contrast to what Tonio Borg is saying on the tobacco directives? One imposes her will, even though the people and countries think differently, whilst Tonio Borg shuns his responsibility when it comes to imposing the legislation on what the people feel and want? Is the tobacco lobby so strong and has so many powerful friends ( even on the very top of the EU) that it can take for a ride millions of people? This is not the EU we have voted for.
The rich keep getting richer,no one can take it against Philip Morris.
Same old story - Never my fault.
Tghid dan wiehed mill-pastizzi li se jibdew iservu f'tal-Pieta.