This week the European Parliament has to decide whether or not to endorse Maltese Tonio Borg for EU Commissioner for Public Health. Not so long ago, the nomination of an EU Commissioner would be a bureaucratic formality, the outcome of an exchange between diplomats of the Member States, to be rubberstamped by the European Parliament. But ever since the commotion over the nomination of Mr. Buttiglione in 2004, the appointment of EU Commissioners has become political. It demonstrates that Europe is rapidly becoming a mature political union, where those who govern Europe are not selected because they are top notch civil servants, but because of their political program.
Some have accused the opponents of Mr. Borg of religious intolerance. That reproach is completely unfounded. It is a free world, Mr. Borg is entitled to his views and convictions, like any European citizen. We will not tell him what to believe (we are not the thought police), nor do we feel he should be excluded from holding any office. But EU Commissioners are not mere technocrats, they are no political eunuchs. Commissioners are politicians, policy makers. Therefore their political views are very relevant. It makes a difference if the Commissioner for, say, internal market is a communist or a neo-liberal. It makes a difference for public health if the candidate is a moral conservative, or liberal.
We are not being asked to judge Mr. Borg for his religious views, nor for his technical competence. We are being asked if we are willing to entrust him with a particular portfolio, as the responsible Commissioner, and as member of the college. The EU Commission is a political body, shaping the policies of the EU. Therefore it makes complete sense to give or withhold support on account of the candidate’s political agenda.
It is a shame if Mr. Borg feels he has to deny or betray his views. In a political campaign, a candidate should seek support by promoting his political views, not by trying to hide them. Denouncing his earlier views does not make him a more credible candidate. I much prefer a candidate who stands by his views, no matter how much I abhor them. Mr. Borg has tried to assure MEPs of his moderate views, during the confirmation hearing and in a letter. He has made some very positive statements, regarding LGBT rights notably. But of course his track record has to be taken into consideration as well.
MEPs have to consider their own position as well. For years this House has called for EU policies on sexual and reproductive health rights, including safe and legal abortion, as well as for strengthening of LGBT rights. Parliament cannot credibly call for those policies, but appoint a Commissioner who is fiercely opposed to that very political agenda.
This episode is a healthy step on the road to a political, democratic European Union.