Francis Boeynaems, consultant, and Dariusz Szulc, project assistant, are based in APCO’s Brussels office.
The recent nomination of Tonio Borg, currently Deputy Prime Minister of Malta, as the new EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy has proved controversial in some quarters. Given his conservative stance on immigration, abortion and same-sex marriage, Mr. Borg’s candidature prompted criticism from several MEPs and NGOs, including the European Network Against Racism and the European AIDS Treatment Group, which called on the European Parliament to reject his candidacy.
The Treaty on the Functioning of the EU allows for the European Parliament to be consulted when a vacancy of this kind arises and so, as the first step, the three most relevant committees invited the Commissioner-designate to a joint hearing to test his suitability for the post and his knowledge of the key policy and legislative dossiers at stake.
As a result of the controversy over his nomination – and the still-unanswered questions over the surprise resignation of his predecessor John Dalli a couple of weeks ago – Tonio Borg’s hearing was conducted in a rather awkward atmosphere. During the meeting, which lasted more than three hours, Mr. Borg touched on all the main points in his possible future portfolio, including tobacco, health care, consumer protection, animal cloning and animal welfare. MEPs questioned him intensively on his personal views, including those on abortion and homosexuality, and sought assurances on his commitment to women’s rights and non-discrimination.
There is a general consensus among observers and in the media that Mr. Borg was well prepared, pledging his commitment to continue the agenda of his predecessor. Nevertheless, a number of critics have argued that he did not provide sufficient answers to the questions posed and that his personal views remain incompatible with the health and consumer portfolio.
Nevertheless, chances of seeing Mr. Borg’s nomination confirmed by the European Parliament as a whole in a vote at next week’s plenary in Strasbourg (19-22 November) are high. While the EPP Group has officially endorsed Mr. Borg’s nomination, the liberals (ALDE – here) and the Greens (here) have both issued statements against his candidature. The S&D Group claimed it shall demand “further commitments” from the Commissioner-designate that his personal views will not interfere with his work as commissioner (see here), but observers seem to agree that the second-biggest group of the Parliament will also back Mr. Borg’s nomination during an internal vote on November 20.
If the European Parliament approves Mr. Borg, as is likely to happen, his nomination would then have to be approved by the Council, by a qualified majority vote. A Council meeting on educational affairs is scheduled for November 22. However, final approval by the Council could be pushed back to November 26, when the General Affairs Council meets.
Should the appointment of Mr. Borg be official by the end of the month, one can only hope that this saga will not have weakened the image of the European Commission, whose current mandate is still running until mid-2014.