Tonio Borg’s bid to become Malta’s third European Commissioner depends on the support of Socialist MEPs in the three committees grilling him on Tuesday.
It still appears that Liberals are reluctant to support Tonio Borg
Sources close to the European Parliament told The Sunday Times that Dr Borg’s approval is far from certain and he is in for a tough session.
Despite spending recent days in Brussels meeting MEPs individually, it still appears that Liberals – the third strongest grouping in the EP – are reluctant to support Dr Borg.
The 55-year-old is now banking on the Socialists, who together with the European People’s Party MEPs, command a majority in the Brussels chamber.
Dr Borg – an MP for the past 20 years and one of the most prominent Maltese politicians – has been nominated to occupy the Commission seat vacated by John Dalli’s forced resignation last month.
Mr Dalli resigned after an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud agency concluded he was aware that his former canvasser had asked a Swedish tobacco company for a substantial amount of money to change legislation. The former commissioner strenuously denies the allegations.
For Tuesday’s hearing, Dr Borg is expected to be well prepared on the health and consumer affairs portfolio, as he is being giving the necessary briefing by some of the most experienced staff who used to assist Mr Dalli.
However, some MEPs appear to be interested in tripping up the seasoned politician by picking on his past declarations on homosexuality, gay and civil rights, which they find conservative and objectionable.
Although sources close to the Socialist group in Brussels told The Sunday Times that Malta’s MEPs in the group are doing their fair share to convince colleagues to support Dr Borg’s nomination, there are still some objections, particularly from members forming part of the LGBT inter-group.
The inter-group consists of more than 100 MEPs and is presided over by prominent British Socialist MEP Michael Cashman, who also commands political clout within the Socialist group.
Dr Borg met Mr Cashman – possibly his biggest threat – over the past week and tried to explain his position on all issues the LGBT lobby is objecting to. However, it is not known whether this was enough to get the actor-turned-politician on board.
The only safe votes Dr Borg can bank on are those of the EPP, the largest group within the European Parliament to which the Nationalist Party belongs.
MEP Simon Busuttil accompanied Dr Borg to all his meetings with prominent EPP parliamentarians and convinced the majority of them to support the Maltese nomination.
While the Liberals and Greens are not expected to support Dr Borg, the support of Socialists has become crucial.
“It will all depend on how the Socialists vote next Tuesday. If Labour MEPs manage to convince the majority to vote in favour, then Dr Borg is safe. This is not certain even though MEP Louis Grech is doing his utmost to get the required support,” the sources said.
The Labour Party has declared its support for Dr Borg’s nomination, but it is still unclear if this will be reflected in Brussels.
On Tuesday, Dr Borg will be grilled by members of three parliamentary committees: Envi (environment, health and food safety), Imco (internal market and consumer affairs) and Agri (agriculture). In preparation for this meeting, Dr Borg replied in writing to a questionnaire sent by MEPs.
Now, MEPs will have three hours to ask all other questions they wish.
At the end of the meeting the group coordinators in all three committees will discuss the nomination and write a report with their recommendation.
Their decision is normally rubber-stamped by the chamber a week later in Strasbourg, though the process will not be straightforward if the appointment remains controversial.
If Dr Borg is not approved, Malta will have to make a fresh nomination.
Extracts from Dr Borg’s answers to MEPs’ questionnaire
• “Fundamentally I have, throughout my political career, fought for and defended European values as reflected in the Treaties, with their highest expression now contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.”
• “As Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Representatives, I was regularly involved in matters of health and consumer protection. They form an integral part of the value of solidarity, on which the EU is based and which needs to be defended vigorously, in particular in the current context of fiscal austerity.”
• “A successful health and consumer policy requires close cooperation with many other Commissioners to ensure such issues are reflected in all policies. I look forward to this challenge as throughout my political career I have always cherished and developed a strong culture of dialogue and consensus both with my colleagues and my political adversaries.”
Declaration of interests
• Member of Nationalist Party
• Member of Chamber of Advocates
• Honorary member of Lija, Balzan, Birkirkara band clubs
Posts held in educational institutions:
• Part-time senior lecturer in Public Law – University of Malta
• Media Link Ltd
• Euro Tours Ltd
• 4,800 HSBC shares valued at €13,440
• €2,500 nominal bonds of 7.5 per cent Med Investment Holdings Ltd
• €6,500 nominal bonds of 7.5 per cent Med Investment Holdings Ltd
• €14,000 nominal bonds of HSBC Finance 4.5 per cent
• €7,000 nominal bonds Citigroup 4.75 per cent
• €21,000 nominal bonds of National Australia Bank 4.75 per cent
• €17,000 nominal bonds Irish Government 4.5 per cent
• €8,000 nominal bonds Greece 5.5 per cent
• 2,267.393 units of La Valletta Sterling Income Fund
• €4,500 nominal bonds of BoV 4.8 per cent
• Residence in Lija
• Small undivided share of property subject to emphyteusis/lease in Guardamangia, St Paul’s Bay, Valletta, Sliema with total income of €55.