Monday, 12 November 2012

Malta Today: MEPs want Borg to answer for ‘conservative, outdated’ views on homosexuality

Tonio Borg grilling: MEPs’ intergroup on LGBT rights criticizes choice of commissioner-designate.
Tuesday 6 November 2012 - 07:30 by Matthew Vella

The LGBT intergroup claims Tonio Borg's extreme views would prevent him from being a fair-minded commissioner for public health.

Criticism of the choice of foreign minister Tonio Borg as commissioner-designate to take the EU's health and consumer policy portfolio in the wake of John Dalli's resignation is being spearheaded by the European Parliament's intergroup on LGBT rights, a grouping of 139 MEPs from the entire political spectrum that wants Borg to answer for his "conservative and outdated" views on abortion, homosexuality and divorce.

Going by a dossier [Opens PDF] compiled by the LGBT intergroup for MEPs, whose members include Labour MEP and gay rights campaigner Michael Cashman and Liberal Democrats leader Graham Watson MEP, Tonio Borg is expected to be grilling on several of his stands and statements which, in the otherwise 'comfortable' setting of Maltese politics had only raised the eyebrows of the 'liberal elite' he once derided.

As he now prepares for a hearing on 13 November before the EP's committee on environment, public and food safety (ENVI) and other bilateral meetings with key MEPs, the LGBT intergroup is asking MEPs to question Borg on his socially conservative views before and during his grilling.

"Tonio Borg's views on abortion, homosexuality and divorce are staunchly conservative and outdated. While not necessarily on topics of EU competence, he views his strong opinions as 'issues of conscience', which would prevent him from being an impartial commissioner - especially with the public health portfolio," the LGBT intergroup's background note on Borg says.

The MEPs say that the health and consumer affairs portfolio includes issues such as discrimination in healthcare, at-risk populations like single mothers and gay men, sexually-transmitted diseases and prevention campaigns, and health in education, and go on to state that his conservative views might be at loggerheads with the demands of his portfolio.

Borg is taken to task on his views of homosexual couples, citing parliamentary debates in which he accused Labour of using a rent law reform to "regularise gays", having described his position as a matter of social conscience.

The dossier also alleges that Borg "vocally defended that only relationships that were 'in Malta's national interest' should be recognised," according to claims by the Malta Gay Rights Movement in a meeting held with him in December 2009, in which Borg was said to have defended the incorrect transposition of the Free Movement Directive which was then changed shortly after infringement procedures started.

Borg is also criticised for having been one of 11 MPs who voted against the divorce bill after the referendum, and of trying to weaken the divorce law before it passed; and for supporting Maltese pro-life lobby Gift Of Live with his unilateral proposal to entrench criminal anti-abortion provisions in the Constitution.

In their dossier, MEPs are told that Borg's repeated public opposition and disapproval of same-sex relationships makes it hard to believe that he is a supporter of the cohabitation law that his own government is pushing, which was once a 1998 electoral pledge later materialising in the middle of the divorce debate as a political token from Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

"Preparing for his hearing, Borg said that 'one must be careful before labeling somebody, and you cannot divest me of my values'. Borg and his supporters may defend his previous statements and actions as 'choices of conscience', 'personal choices' or 'conscientious objection'. Some may also label opposing Dr Borg as 'anti-Christian', 'christianophobic', or against religion. Dr Borg is entitled to his own views (religious or not), but using such extreme views to define law and policy, and making it a case of conscience above any questioning, would likely prevent him from being a fair-minded commissioner for public health," the report states.

Currently composed of 139 Members of the European Parliament, the Intergroup on LGBT Rights is the second largest of the European Parliament's 27 Intergroups.

Members come from six political Groups (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA, GUE/GNL, ECR, as well as one non-attached Member), and from 22 different Member States (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom).

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