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Tonio Borg nominated for vacant EU post

Foreign Minister Tonio Borg was last night officially nominated as European Commissioner in the wake of John Dalli’s shocking resignation.

The seasoned politician and deputy Prime Minister was Lawrence Gonzi’s favourite to take on the Brussels job for the rest of the current Commission’s term up to 2014.

Dr Gonzi informed European Commission President José Manuel Barroso of his decision last night after a meeting with Opposition leader Joseph Muscat.

“It was a difficult decision to take but the Prime Minister asked me to take on this challenge and I rarely say no to him,” Dr Borg, 55, told The Sunday Times, adding it would have been preferable had his nomination come about in different circumstances.

Dr Borg, a human rights expert, has been Foreign Minister since 2008, after previously holding the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio.

‘I have a track record’

Elected deputy leader of the Nationalist Party in 2004, Dr Borg was first elected to Parliament in 1992.

It is not yet known who would eventually assume Dr Borg’s foreign affairs portfolio though he will still serve as a minister for the next weeks until the process is sanctioned by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

The European Parliament normally reserves a tough grilling for aspiring commissioners.

Asked whether his views on certain issues may lead to a difficult ride during this process, Dr Borg replied: “All hearings are very tough but this is an important part of the procedure. I might be conservative in my beliefs but I’m liberal in many other ways. I have a track record in human rights since the days of the Mintoff Government and I have always been at the forefront in eliminating discrimination, from refugee rights to issues of sexual orientation.”

Dr Borg insisted he wanted to have a good relationship with the European Parliament in the same way he has maintained his good connection with his local constituents for 20 years.

Meanwhile, Labour MEP Edward Scicluna yesterday expressed disappointment about the “petty parochial” discussion on who should replace Mr Dalli, warning that Malta cannot afford to get it wrong again.

He suggested a person like the UN Ambassador for Climate Change Michael Zammit Cutajar as a person of “international reputation” who could help Malta regain the trust of the world.

“It is not relevant whether this person resides in Malta or abroad, or whether he is a politician or not,” he added.

He warned the next Commissioner will get an even more “savage grilling” than previous ones.

“We cannot risk getting it wrong by another failure at the candidature stage. As an MEP who was involved in the grilling of potential European Commissioners two years ago I know the psychology of the MEPs. Only if the candidate would have an international outstanding reputation would we be able to withstand further criticism and avoid further potential and irreparable risks.”

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