Tuesday

24th May 2016

Malta's EU candidate shakes off tobacco link

Malta's would-be new EU health commissioner Tonio Borg is to sell a tiny investment linked to the tobacco industry for the sake of "good faith."

The Brussels-based NGO, Corporate Europe Observatory, on Monday (19 November) circulated information that La Valette Sterling Income Fund, in which Borg owns about 2,300 shares, itself owns bonds issued by US firm Imperial Tobacco.

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Borg told EUobserver the sums involved are "infinitesimal" and that he did not know what the fund was doing with his money.

But the revelation - coming 48 hours before MEPs vote on his nomination and one month after his predecessor, John Dalli, lost his job in a tobacco lobbying scandal - was awkward enough to prompt action.

"Last year I earned £90 [€112] from the fund, of which the sum indirectly derived from Imperial Tobacco bonds was in the region of £1.80," Borg said.

"In spite of the absence of a conflict of interest and to demonstrate utmost good faith, I have given instructions so that this investment is disposed of," he added.

"I will not weaken the tobacco control directive in any way," he also said, referring to a draft bill by Dalli, which had envisaged some tough measures, such as forcing cigarette makers to use plain packs covered in pictures of diseased lungs, before its author left his post.

Opposition to Borg among left-leaning MEPs has so far concentrated on his Roman Catholic mores.

The Liberal and Green groups, as well as individual MEPs in the centre-left S&D faction, plan to vote No on Wednesday on grounds that his views on homosexuality and on contraception will make him do his job less well.

Borg on Saturday sent a two-page letter to MEPs on the subject.

He said he is a "strong believer in the innate dignity of all, regardless of their sexual orientation."

He pledged to fight HIV-linked social stigma and to lobby the World Health Organisation to stop saying that people who have a sex change are mentally ill.

He also promised to table a new law on genetically-modified food and on cloned animals in mid-2013 and to make sure there is no delay to an EU ban on cosmetic products which have been tested on animals.

Slovakia to fight EU 'fragmentation'

When they take the presidency of the EU ministers council, Slovak authorities say they will try to avoid divisions on migration, manage the aftermath of the UK referendum and strengthen the single market.

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