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Tonio Borg is likely to pass test

Tonio Borg answers questions in Brussels yesterday. Photo: AFP

Tonio Borg answers questions in Brussels yesterday. Photo: AFP

Tonio Borg last night appeared well on the way towards being appointed a European Commissioner after making a good impression on three committees of the European Parliament.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who has been nominated to replace John Dalli as EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, was grilled for three hours in a packed hall of the European Parliament.

Parliament sources said his performance won the approval of the majority of MEPs in the EPP and the Socialist groups, which would together constitute a comfortable majority when it comes to the vote in plenary next week.

Before the session, Dr Borg was only assured of the support of the EPP, the political family of the Nationalist Party, with the exception of members of the Swedish delegation. The Socialist Group, the second largest in the Brussels chamber, was however split and undecided.

Following Dr Borg’s convincing performance and 11th hour meetings coordinated by MEP Louis Grech, head of Labour’s delegation in Brussels, the Socialist group have made a positive assessment and are expected to back Dr Borg, sources told The Times.

The Liberals, who were initially fiercely opposed to his nomination over his “conservative” ideas, have also moved away from their absolute “no” and last night were showing signs of a shift in their position.

“Although a final assessment by the lead committee (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) is expected to be concluded on Wednesday (today), the first evaluation is positive,” an EP official said.

“The EPP and the Socialists are clearly supporting Dr Borg while the Liberals are split although they too might shift their position to a positive one.

“On the other hand, the Greens and the former communists have stuck to their original position opposing the Maltese nomination.”

The committee’s assessment will be sent to the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament, which by the end of this week will formalise a resolution to be put to the vote at next week’s EP plenary session in Strasbourg.

If the resolution wins a majority – as is now expected – Dr Borg’s nomination will be rubber stamped by the EU Council.

If approved, Dr Borg will serve as EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner until October 2014 when the current commission’s mandate comes to an end. He would be the third Maltese to occupy the prestigious post in Brussels following Joe Borg and Mr Dalli.

Apart from the prestige, the job comes with a handsome salary of €230,000 and a raft of other perks.

MEP comments after hearing:

Mario Mauro
Italian - EPP
• “I think that Dr Borg has not simply given a good performance but he probably was one of the best performers in all of the hearings that I have attended and listened to in three different legislatures. He was brilliant, competent and intelligent and I think that the EU and the political project we are on needs these kind of leaders. I have no doubt that Dr Borg will be approved. He knew very well all the issues he was asked about and answered convincingly.”

Matthias Groote
German – Socialist and Committee Chairman
• “Without doubt, Dr Borg gave a very good performance and he gave us all the replies we asked for. In my opinion he has convinced us that he has all the competences to take over the new job. I can find absolutely no reason why we should turn him down.”

Peter Liese
German - EPP
• “It was an extremely good performance. I was surprised as I expected him to be good but he did even better than my expectations. He was so well prepared on all issues and also ready to give commitments. I’ve been in many hearings in Parliament since 1994 and this was definitely one of the best.

“With regards to his final approval, unfortunately, I cannot exclude that some colleagues have prejudgements and maybe they are not ready to reverse these pre-judgements even though we heard clear statements in this hearing. I think that the Chairman did well when he said that Dr Borg gave a good performance and I trust that there should be a stable and clear majority for Tonio Borg.”

Simon Busuttil
Maltese - EPP
• “It was a brilliant performance and he made us proud to be Maltese. After his performance I can’t imagine how Dr Borg cannot be approved. Now the evaluation will start and I am hopeful that we will have a positive result. After Dr Borg’s performance I can’t imagine otherwise.”

Carlo Casini
Italian - EPP
• “His performance was excellent and he showed us that he is prepared to take over the tasks which come with this portfolio. His replies were direct and immediate. He showed us that he has a great political experience. On the controversial subjects he has showed us that he will still keep to his convictions, as he should, but that he would abide by EU rules. For us that is very reassuring and I am sure that he will make a very good Commissioner.”

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