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MEPs questioned Tonio Borg intensively on his nomination to take up the Commission health and consumer protection portfolio. They urged action on delayed tobacco legislation and sought assurances on his views on women's rights and non-discrimination, in a hearing on Tuesday.

"People's portfolio"


In his opening statement, Tonio Borg described the health and consumer mandate as the "people's portfolio". He promised to champion consumer interests and pledged to cooperate fully with the European Parliament.

If his nomination is approved, the Commissioner-designate said he would propose legislation, including on tobacco products, cloning of animals for food, novel foods, product safety, plant and animal health and access to bank accounts.

Promises on tobacco and non-discrimination

Replying to Peter Liese (EPP, DE) on the timetable for long-delayed tobacco products legislation, Dr Borg promised to propose "ambitious" measures in January 2013. This has the backing of Commission President Barroso, he said.

Linda McAvan (S&D, UK), Chris Davies (ALDE, UK) and Satu Hassi (Greens/EFA, FI) were among several MEPs who challenged the Commissioner-designate on his record and previous statements on women's rights and non-discrimination.

Dr Borg said he "would not abandon his personal views" but would respect the treaties. He stressed that he personally supported a bill in Malta to recognise non-marital relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual. He would support Commissioner Reding's proposal on quotas of women on boards. He also said he supported the fight against HIV/AIDS, including education programmes.

Replying to a question by Marina Yannakoudakis (ECR, UK) on clinical trials legislation, the Commissioner-designate said new proposals were designed to reverse the decline in the number of trials, while maintaining safety standards and cutting red tape.

Kartika Liotard (GUE/NGL, NL) probed the Commissioner-designate's views on inequality in health systems. Dr Borg underlined that delivery of health services is a member state competence. He added he is opposed to unjustified discrimination but supports special attention for vulnerable people.

Giancarlo Scotta (EFD, IT) expressed his opposition to the scrapping of voluntary labelling of beef. Dr Borg said the rule changes should avoid misleading labelling.

Cloning, GMOs, consumers, animal transport

The Commissioner-designate said he would propose legislation on novel foods and cloning for food in June 2013. As regards genetically-modified crop cultivation and food imports, he said he would base his views on scientific advice, while applying the precautionary principle and not being the "slave" of the EU food safety agency.

He said he would work to protect consumers online and seek to guarantee their access to banking services.

Responding to agriculture MEPs' questions on animal transport, Dr Borg stressed that current rules should be properly enforced and he drew attention to animal welfare proposals to be tabled in 2013.

He said he would make a "top priority" of fighting any perceived conflicts of interest in EU agencies.

Next steps

The Chairs of the committees on environment (covering health and food issues), consumer protection and agriculture will consult with political group coordinators and each other on their impressions and recommendations immediately after the hearing.

Parliament's Conference of Committee Chairs will meet on Wednesday and the Conference of Presidents on Thursday, before the whole House votes on a resolution to give their non-binding verdict next week in Strasbourg.

In the Chair: Matthias Groote (S&D, DE), Malcolm Harbour (ECR, UK)