European Commission Nominee May be Rejected over Catholic Beliefs

Posted on | November 16, 2012 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D |

Can a candidate who embraces the Catholic Church’s teachings on issues such as abortion and homosexuality serve as the European health commissioner?  Do such views exist as one of many perspectives within a continent full of diverse opinions, or are they incompatible with “European values”?  These proved to be the broader questions surrounding the November 13thhearing in the European Parliament evaluating the Maltese designate Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy Tonio Borg.

During his three-hour hearing, Dr. Borg was questioned about his views on abortion, and he firmly stated that this was a matter outside the jurisdiction of the European Institutions and was to be determined by European member states themselves based on the principle of subsidiarity, saying, “I shall not interfere with those choices, irrespective of my personal belief, because if I am approved, I will be a European commissioner.  I shall not be the Maltese commissioner, I shall be the European commissioner nominated by Malta.”

When pressed on the issue of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Borg flatly denied having made disparaging remarks against homosexuals, something his opponents accused him of.  Borg pointed out that discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation is prohibited in Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights.  He repeatedly asserted, “I shall chart my course on the charter of human rights.”

Borg summarized his stance on the abortion issue by stating: “On other issues relating to abortion and other matters, these are matters to be exclusively decided by the member states.  When answering questions from those who want to liberalize this practice and those who want to restrict this practice, it has been the standard answer, and that will be my standard answer as well.”

At the end of the hearing, Borg was praised by the committee chairman for his “expertise and personality”, and described as having given a “steady performance” in a European Voice article.  However, assurances from Borg that he would abide by existing treaties and respect the laws of member states were not sufficient to placate some critics, including representatives of the Green party who issued a statement saying “We don’t trust him to go beyond the strict minimum and actually defend the Charter of Fundamental Rights, rather than simply abide by it.”

Since its announcement, it has been clear that the controversy around Borg’s designation does not stem from a lack of competency or expertise, but rather from his personal religious views, which he has promised will not prevent him from meeting the obligations of the new post.  Among Borg’s harshest critics was Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld, who stated, “Tonio Borg said he won’t abandon his views, and I’m very much opposed to them—his Europe isn’t my Europe.”  One observer point out that by this standard, merely being a committed Christian would be sufficient grounds to disqualify a person from serving on the European Commission.

By Tuesday the 14th, some of the Parliament’s left-leaning parties issued statements saying they would vote to oppose Borg joining the commission, although the largest party has indicated its support for him and others, including the second-largest, have not yet reached a consensus.

Borg’s nomination follows the recent resignation of John Dalli, also of Malta.  If confirmed, he will hold the post of Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy until 2014.  The entire European Parliament will vote on Borg’s nomination next Wednesday in Strasbourg.

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Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.

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