Why Tonio Borg won’t work
Te John Dalli affair has hit international news. It has caused irreparable damage to Dalli, who still does not have access to the prosecutor’s documentation, but it has also hit all us Maltese since it has given us a bad reputation in Europe and in the world.
Apart from the moral and ethical repercussions of this case, there are strong political consequences. Malta has lost its EU Commissioner and Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has had to nominate a new person in the space of a few days.
His choice has fallen on Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg. Unfortunately, I believe it is one of the worst choices that could have been made.
Why do I say so? There are at least five important political reasons why Borg’s candidature risks being unsuccessful.
In the course of his tenure as Deputy Prime Minister, Borg has come up with statements that would make any normal European politician quiver.
Notably, in the discussion on the revision of rent laws in Malta, Borg had come up with the sarcastic assertion that it would be preposterous if gay couples were to expect to be eligible for housing.
Borg was also the politician who spearheaded the Gift of Life’s crusade to ensure that the issue of abortion should be entrenched in the Maltese Constitution. Thirdly, his shenanigans lately as Leader of the House to prevent motions being discussed are also a big slap in the face of proper democratic practices.
In addition, his voting against the will of the Maltese people after last year’s divorce referendum and his total support for Berlusconi’s pushback policy of irregular migrants will certainly not earn him any extra brownie points.
Of course, even the majority of Maltese level headed politicians have pooh-poohed his assertions, but in Europe his statements and actions would be regarded as proper anathema.
Italian Minister Rocco Buttiglione, a cultured philosopher to boot, was sent back home packing by the European Parliament for a much less fundamentalist and homophobic approach than Borg’s.
What Malta needs as EU commissioner is a consensual candidate and not a divisive one.
Ironically, the appointment of Borg might be tacitly accepted and tolerated by Opposition leader Joseph Muscat. It would suit him fine since this divisive nomination would then give the Labour leader the necessary excuse not to renew his mandate in 20 months’ time or so, and to put in his partisan Labour nominee, possibly Alfred Sant or George Vella.
This would be tragic for Malta’s reputation since it would probably be one of the first times in the EU’s history that a country appoints a stopgap partisan commissioner for less than two years.
This stopgap solution would then lead to an even greater embarrassment if in 2015 Sant or Vella were to be nominated by Muscat. Sant is the most cultured and academically endowed Prime Minister in Maltese history since independence; Vella is a most respected medical practitioner. Politically, however, they are guilty of the greatest affront to the democratic will of the people when, despite clearly losing a referendum by a 53 per cent majority in 2003, they took to the streets screaming “Partnership had won”. We must thank God if blood was not shed on that fateful day.
In today’s democratic and progressive Europe it is certainly not fitting at all to see fundamentalist Borg or anti-democratic Sant or Vella being nominated as commissioners by our country. All these candidates would risk not passing the grilling test they would be subjected to at the European Parliament, where the four biggest groups (PPE, Socialists, Greens and Liberals) have a very important say.
What we need is a capable consensus candidate agreed upon by a strong majority of Maltese society, a candidate who is guaranteed security of tenure for the following six and a half years, during which s/he would have not only to make a good name for her/himself but also make up for the damage that the whole Dalli affair has caused to our country and people’s reputation.
I sincerely hope that Gonzi and Muscat can go beyond their petty egoistic parochial party interests in favour of our country’s superior needs.
Prof. Cassola is Alternattiva Demokratika’s spokesman on EU and International Affairs.