Plenary vote on Maltese Health Commissioner-designate Tonio Borg

On Wednesday November 21st at 12:00 PM in Strasbourg, the European Parliament will decide whether to appoint Tonio Borg as the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. On Tuesday the 20th, various political parties will discuss their positions on the matter.

Approximately one month ago, Dr. Borg was nominated by the Maltese Government to fill the vacancy in the European Commission, after John Dalli’s resignation as Health Commissioner. After due agreement on the part of the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, and the Council, the IMCO, ENVI and AGRI Committees of the European Parliament held a hearing to assess Tonio Borg’s suitability for the Health and Consumer Policy portfolio.

Tonio Borg is a Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), and a Senior Human Rights lecturer at the University of Malta. He was formerly a lawyer in private practice, with a specialisation in human rights cases, and has worked as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Malta.

In the European Parliament’s hearing, he made clear that he has always defended and promoted European values. “As European Commissioner, I will abide by the Treaties. I will also abide by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and by the subsidiarity principle, which does not allow the Commission to interfere in any way with these rights” he stated.

On the issues of stem cell research and support for programmes on family planning and women’s reproductive and sexual health in developing countries, Dr. Borg stated that he “shall abide by the programmes decided by the Commission,” […] “because those programmes have already been decided; because there is the principle of collegiality; because different countries have different laws, and they should be adopted according to the legal position in the different countries.”

On the issue of abortion, Dr. Borg again referred to the importance of respect for treaty law. “On the question of abortion […] this is something which the Treaty is very clear about, namely that it is on the hands of Member States.” Borg clearly expressed his respect for the acquis communautaire and for national law, which he considered “a double edged sword.” “I am bound by Article 168 of the Treaty, which makes it extremely clear that the delivery of health services is in the hands of the Member States. This is a double-edged sword of course, but I have to abide by it and I will abide by it as a European Commissioner” he said.

He manifested his support for the implementation of Article 21 of the Charter which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. He highlighted that “wherever there are these pockets of discrimination – provided that they are pigeonholed in Article 21 of the Charter – [I] will support those changes which are necessary.”

Although as Dr. Borg noted, “each one of us has his own personal views,” there is no evidence that his views will interfere with his professional performance, and there is every reason to believe that if elected by Parliament, he will abide by the oath of his office.