Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Malta Today: Secular groups plan to protest against the Commissioner-designate

Candidacy is 'certainly very bad for the image of Malta in Europe' says secularists who will protest Borg nomination.
National Tuesday 30 October 2012 - 17:05 by Raphael Vassallo

Tonio Borg.

The nomination of Foreign Affairs Minister Tonio Borg to replace John Dalli on the Commission has not gone down well with NGOs representing Europe's secular liberal interests, and protests are planned to coincide with his screening by the European parliament on 13 November.

Among the organisations that will participate in these protests is the European Humanist Federation, representing secular atheist and agnostic organisations across the continent. It is understood that the protests will also attract women's rights activists and other special interest groups.

Pierre Arnaud Perouty, director-general of Belgium's Centre d'Action Laïque, told MaltaToday why his organisation will be joining the initiative against Borg's appointment to the Commission.

"This candidacy is certainly very bad for the image of Malta in Europe," he said on Friday. "Not only did Malta fail to send a single woman to the European Parliament, pass a law to legalise divorce as late as 2011, and still has the most restrictive law on abortion in Europe: it is now proposing a person with totally outdated patriarchal views on women, and a long record of homophobic positions."

Among the chief concerns identified by the protestors was Borg's decision to spearhead an aggressive campaign to entrench Malta's abortion ban in the Constitution in 2004.

"It is hardly conceivable that a person who opposed women's sexual reproductive health rights so strongly, would take command of the Health and Consumer Protection portfolio in the European Commission. It is also an ambiguous signal from the Commission, given its strong commitment to women rights and non-discrimination."

Similar objections have already been raised by political blocs represented in the European Parliament. The European Greens have declared they will not support Borg's nomination, and the Liberals are understood to share similar reservations.

With the EPP (of which Borg's PN is a member) welcoming his nomination, this leaves the decision largely in the hands of the European Socialists... whose president, Hannes Swoboda, has already publicly aired misgivings.

"We will look carefully into the qualifications of [Dalli's] proposed successor. In view of some comments from Mr Borg on the rights of homosexuals we intend to question him closely on whether his views are compatible with Europe's fundamental values on civil liberties and non-discrimination."

Significantly, Swoboda cited the former failed candidacy of Italian rightwing politician Rocco Buttiglione, whose similar outspoken views on homosexual rights had cost him the Commissionership.

"There has already been one case where the European Parliament rejected a candidate who could not convince MEPS of his readiness to accept basic European values," Swoboda said. "We do not need a second Rocco Buttiglione."

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