Monday, 19 November 2012

The Politics of Appointing Borg

The European Parliament has to decide whether or not to confirm Tonio Borg as the new Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy after John Dalli was controversially brought down by an OLAF investigation. Borg has met with opposition in the EP for his conservative views, particularly on divorce, abortion and cohabiting couples. The Greens, ALDE, United Left and Socialists and Democrats have concerns over Borg suitability and might reject him. Although Borg performed well in last week's hearing, saying that he will stick within the treaties and Charter of Fundamental Rights, these concerns remain, and the Parliament has released a check-list for consenting to his appointment:

"[Borg] should publicly commit to the following:
  • The delivery of the legislative proposal on tobacco products by January 2013;
  • The adoption of legislative proposals on animal cloning and novel food by mid-2013;
  • The full respect of the March 2013 deadline for the ban of animal testing for cosmetics;
  • Better enforcement of EU law on animal transport;
  • Full respect of the EU Charter on Fundamental rights, in particular of Article 21, as well as of EU anti-discrimination legislation and case-law;
  • Recognising the innate dignity of all citizens of the EU, regardless of their sexual orientations, actively working to address health inequalities and to acting against stigmatisation of people with HIV and AIDS;
  • Actively supporting EU policies with regard to women’s rights."

There seems to be some confusion over the concerns these political groups have over Borg's appointment and  their connection to his prospective portfolio. While the battle over values echoes that of Rocco Buttiglione's rejection, the wider ideological battle is less obvious because the EP isn't electing the Commission en bloc, but is deciding on a replacement Commissioner, so the debate within the EP has been a bit more focused on the specific portfolio, so critics have been linking his conservatives views to the area of health, despite the EU's lack of power in this area. As Martin Holterman writes in his great article on how political Commissioner appointments could/should be:

"Judging, for example, from the headline of this opinion article on Public Service Europe, Mr. Borg’s critics seem to consider their objections to concern his “suitability” for the Health and Consumer Affairs portfolio in particular. They are not worried about the ideological balance of power in the College of Commissioners, and they are not even necessarily worried about ideology in general, but rather they seem to argue that his ideology will get in the way of his job performance in concrete ways. The author of this opinion article,Monika Kosiñska from the the European Public Health Alliance, for example, lists the candidate’s views on abortion, homosexuality and immigration as being particularly problematic. This is particularly curious because I’m not entirely sure how the Health and Consumer Affairs portfolio touches on these fields."

But while the views of the candidate and his or her specific competence are important, the general ideological  views of the candidate and the political make-up of the Commission does matter and is an important political issue. Commissioners vote on draft proposals before they are put to the Council and the Parliament, so the political viewpoints of each Commissioner matters for all areas of Commission policy, not just his or her own portfolio. Just this week Commissioner Reding introduced a watered-down version of her boardroom quotas law - watered down due to opposition that included fellow Commissioners who could vote to block the proposal.

This collective responsibility of the College of Commissioners means that its political make-up is a valid issue for the Parliament in deciding on new Commissioners. The fact that respect for women's rights is included on the list, and that the Commission is putting forward draft legislation in this area, shows that the ideology of the candidate is a relevant and live issue, and MEPs in the centre-ground and on the left should make it clear that the Commission should reflect the political make-up of the Parliament (or, better yet, the majority in Parliament). How will he influence policies in the areas of employment, social affairs, or justice and home affairs? For the political groups on the left, they should not vote for a candidate who holds such emphatically opposing political views unless something is won by way of coalition or concession.

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