28th Oct 2016

Malta's new EU commissioner survives 'witch-hunt'

  • Borg put down his success to calm under fire in his hearing (Photo: European Parliament)

Malta's soon-to-be EU health commissioner has overcome concerns about his Roman Catholic views to win MEPs' approval by a clear majority.

Three hundred and eighty six mostly right-leaning deputies voted Yes on Wednesday (21 November) against 261 No votes and 28 abstentions.

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The decision turned into a nail-biter after the centre-left S&D group said on Tuesday it would not support him. It let its members vote freely in the secret ballot, with enough S&D deputies going against the group line to get him through, however.

Speaking to EUobserver from Malta after the vote, Borg put down his victory to the way he handled MEPs' questions at a hearing last week.

"I knew there were certain rumours and certain official comments but I was sure of the approval in spite of this because of my performance at the hearing. MEPs voted with their consciences and this is why I was successful," he said.

The hearing saw Liberal and Green deputies accuse him of homophobia and backward-looking views on contraception.

But time and again, Borg pledged to respect the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights on non-discrimination and said his private views would not get in the way of his work.

His antagonists on Wednesday said they will watch him like a hawk.

"His views on homosexuality, divorce, abortion and the scientific use of tissues and cells have been well reported and ... [he] made no attempt to deny his opinions on social issues of great importance," British Liberal deputy Chris Davies said.

"If he remains in charge of public health, we will be scrutinising his decisions and statements on these areas very closely," he added.

For its part, the centre-right EPP group said the result is "a victory of reason over intolerance and ideological partisanship."

Borg himself had earlier told this website he felt like the victim of a "witch-hunt."

He voiced relief on Wednesday, adding that scrutiny is nothing new for him after two decades in politics. "Now that this is over, I look forward to working with all the groups, all the members of parliament ... I have been scrutinised all my life and I expect to continue to be scrutinised," he said.

His nomination - due to be rubber-stamped by EU countries in the next few days - comes after his predecessor, John Dalli, lost his post in a tobacco lobbying scandal.

Dalli is currently under investigation by Maltese police on suspicion of soliciting a bribe.

He has indicated that his fall was engineered by the tobacco industry in order to stop his draft tobacco control directive, which proposed measures such as forcing cigarette makers to use plain packs and making retailers take down point-of-sale displays.

Borg has promised to get commission approval for the the bill in January.

Asked by this website if he plans to make any changes to Dalli's draft, he said: "I will certainly not weaken the text in any way."

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