* Devout Maltese Catholic nominated for top EU health job
* Borg's views on abortion, homosexuality worry MEPs
By Robin Emmott and Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS, Nov 13 European lawmakers are
challenging Malta's nominee for the EU's top health job because
of his contempt for homosexuals and opposition to abortion,
after his predecessor quit over an investigation linking him to
European Greens, Liberals and Socialists, who have spoken
out against Tonio Borg, Malta's foreign minister and a devout
Catholic, make up half of the parliament. The Conservatives, who
are more likely to back him, have just under half of the
legislature, with independents making up the rest.
"The question is really to what extent he is willing to
openly and publicly disassociate himself from his previous
statements," said Franziska Brantner, a Green member of the
European Parliament ahead of a non-binding vote on Borg's
nomination from 1400 GMT in Brussels.
Borg, who will be at the hearing on Tuesday, could not
immediately be reached for comment.
The controversy threatens to further embarrass the European
Commission after Malta's previous commissioner John Dalli
resigned last month in a tobacco lobbying scandal.
It also casts doubt on selection procedures at the EU
executive which places officials in unelected posts that shape
regulation across Europe at a time when many Europeans question
the Commission's democratic legitimacy.
Borg's personal views matter because the EU health
commissioner oversees sensitive policy on issues such as access
to healthcare, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and
stem cell research, lawmakers and rights groups say.
"The European Union has always been deeply committed to the
promotion of human rights... There are serious doubts as to
whether Mr Tonio Borg shares this commitment," rights group the
European Humanist Federation wrote in a letter on Oct. 30 to the
Commission's president Jose Manuel Barroso.
Borg has lobbied against abortion in Malta, a position many
EU lawmakers say they cannot accept from a health commissioner.
"THAT'S ALL WE NEED NOW"
Christian groups say Borg is being unfairly targeted for his
Catholic faith. Borg, who is also Malta's deputy prime minister,
has insisted his views are not extremist and that he champions
everyone's right to their own opinions.
His comments from 2009 during a debate in the Maltese
parliament on rent laws have caused the most fuss among liberals
in Brussels and in Malta. Borg is reported to have said gay
couples could not expect to be eligible for social housing.
"That's all we need now. After we've finally decided to
limit inheritance to married couples and children, now we are
expected to extend this protection to those who decide to go and
live with someone of the same sex," Borg is cited saying in
2009, according to an Oct. 29 European Parliament report.
Malta is a conservative country and in June, the tiny island
nation of 410,000 inhabitants wanted the Commission to stop
funding stem cell research that used human embryos, which is
allowed in some EU countries.
Britain is running trials of human embryonic stem cell
treatment for a type of blindness called Stargardts disease.
The parliament's decision to reject Italian politician Rocco
Buttiglione in 2004, because he said he believed homosexuality
was a sin, forced Italy to put forward someone else.