Sunday, 18 November 2012

Malta Today: Update 3 Borg not yet out of the woods, socialists seek new guarantees

LGBT intergroup president to reject Borg - Socialists ‘regret’ nomination of Tonio Borg - Greens, Liberals reject nomination of commissioner-designate.
Wednesday 14 November 2012 - 17:05 by Jurgen Balzan

Updated at 17:05 with statement from Michael Cashman MEP.
Commissioner-designate Tonio Borg might be asked to make a further commitment beyond his vocal assurances to MEPs, that will bind him to his statements made during his three-hour hearing on Tuesday.
The president of the European Parliament's socialists Hannes Swoboda, which controls 189 seats in the parliament, said his group will demand "further commitments" from commissioner-designate Tonio Borg on his commitment to fundamental rights - a bone of contention for MEPs who are not yet convinced of Tonio Borg's guarantees that his personal beliefs on same-sex rights and abortion will not influence his stewardship of the health and consumer affairs portfolio.
Today's meeting of the socialists could not come to a conclusion to agree with Borg's approval.
"Above all, we regret that the Maltese government did not nominate a candidate with a less controversial track record and with more commitment to European values such as women's and LGBT rights, which are particularly dear to the S&D Group," Swoboda said this afternoon, hot on the heels of two declarations by the Liberals and Greens to reject Borg.
Swoboda however said Borg's performance in the hearing did demonstrate factual knowledge and dedicated preparation "which leads us to believe that he could manage the portfolio in an effective manner, if appointed." 
"In the interests of swift progress on essential issues in the health and consumer protection portfolio, we are aware of the importance of appointing a dedicated Commissioner as soon as possible," Swoboda said.
The head of the socialist MEPs, who are key to determining whether Borg will be appointed commissioner by a comfortable margin, suggested Borg will have to give some form of 'written' commitment on his personal views.
"Mr Borg publicly stated that his personal views would not interfere with his actions as Commissioner, if appointed, and that he would stand by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. We just have his word for it at this point and many members are still concerned about whether he would actually follow this line once his appointment was confirmed.
"In the coming days it will be up to Mr Borg to further clarify and convince us that he will stand by those statements and keep the promises he made yesterday."
The S&D Group will continue discussions in the coming week and vote on its position on Tuesday.
"If Mr Borg is confirmed, we will certainly hold him to account on his promises," Swoboda said.
LGBT intergroup
Socialist MEP and head of the LGBT-rights intergroup Michael Cashman also said he would reject Borg.
"I have given this a lot of thought, and given the doubts expressed to me by many-and especially by women who feel strongly about his negative track record on sexual and reproductive health rights- I've come to the conclusion that I cannot endorse Tonio Borg for the European Commission.
"With regard to LGBT rights, he gave us many reassurances on the blood donation of gay men and his support of future initiatives for LGBT people. But it is worrying that Mr Borg failed to support the horizontal anti-discrimination Directive, which is backed by all members of the European Commission since it was proposed in 2008.
"On sexual and reproductive health rights, too many doubts still remain, and whilst he gave us reassurances that his views wouldn't cloud his judgment, many feel his previous actions don't warrant entrusting Mr Borg with the public health portfolio."
Liberals and Greens reject Borg
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) said it will not support his nomination when the European Parliament votes next week, although it said it recognised Borg's performance during Tuesday evening's grilling from MEPs.
ALDE coordinator, MEP Chris Davies said the Liberal MEPs will withhold their support for the confirmation of Tonio Borg as Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy.
ALDE, which holds 85 votes out of 736 seats in the European Parliament said that during the hearing, Liberal MEPs expressed serious concerns about Borg's past record which suggested a discriminatory attitude on homosexuality, divorce and abortion which would be incompatible with his responsibilities as EU public health and consumer policy commissioner as well as with respect to fundamental rights.
Davies said: "We recognise that Dr Borg gave a profound performance at the hearing this afternoon. We have no reason to doubt that he is competent and able. However, his views on homosexuality, divorce, abortion, and the scientific use of tissues and cells have been well reported and, while he stated his opposition to discrimination and support for human rights, Dr Borg made no attempt to deny his opinions on social issues of great importance."
The British MEP added that Borg's views on homosexuality, divorce, abortion, and the scientific use of tissue "remain his views."
Davies added that the health portfolio embraces a range of issues where impartiality is crucial.
"The personal views of a Commissioner should play no part in shaping policies that affect individuals of both genders and of all sexual orientations. But in the case of Dr Borg we are not assured that the necessary impartiality would prevail," he said.
"Accordingly we withhold our support for the confirmation of the Commissioner-designate with regard to the particular portfolio for which he has been nominated."
The two co-presidents of the Greens-EFA (59 seats) Rebecca Harms and Dany Cohn-Bendit, also said that while Borg demonstrated reasonable knowledge of most files in his prospective portfolio, the Greens group had concerns about his personal independence and convictions, "which were not dispelled during the hearing, and will reject his nomination."
"Given the existing questions that had been raised with regard to his positions on sensitive issues related to his prospective role as commissioner - notably on reproductive health, women's and minority rights (LGBT issues) - his responses did little to dispel these concerns. Many of the answers given in the hearing were evasive where clarity was needed, particularly given the context of his previous statements. Furthermore an EU commissioner should not simply abide by the Treaties 'whether he likes them or not', as stated by Mr Borg, a commissioner must defend the Treaties and develop new policies based thereon," the two MEPs said.
Greens/EFA environment committee coordinator Satu Hassi MEP said that although she welcomed Borg's commitment to the swift adoption of a proposal to strengthen the tobacco directive, and also the precautionary principle with regard to GMO authorisations, "the Greens/EFA group will not be able to endorse his candidacy due to the concerns over his convictions, which he has failed to dispel."

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