The FINANCIAL — Malta has nominated its foreign minister to replace the EU's top health official after the previous one resigned amid allegations he sought to sell his influence to the tobacco industry.
Foreign Minister Tonio Borg, who is also deputy prime minister, has been tapped to replace fellow Maltese national John Dalli as EU health and consumer commissioner, Malta's government said in a statement late Saturday.
Borg, a lawyer, was also Malta's deputy prime minister. He made it known he wanted to take over Dalli's portfolio but said it was up to commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to decide.
The appointment has to be discussed by the commission and approved by the European parliament.
"I will be resigning from my post of deputy leader today and this evening I will leave and go to Brussels for talks. Then the hearing at the European Parliament will start," he told AFP.
"The Maltese government wishes that the process would not take long but there is a procedure that has to be followed. My nomination will first have to be discussed at European Commission stage before going before the European Parliament".
He has been a frequent target of criticism over his conservative views, including during his campaign against the legalisation of abortion in Malta last year.
"I was always careful not to brand people. I do not think I'm as conservative as you say I am," he said.
"I was the person who, throughout my political life, brought about radical changes to several laws. Among them was the one on children who are born out of wedlock. Even the cohabitation bill I was in favour of it," he added.
"The most important thing in politics is being honest. Whatever your views are locally, in that position you are a European minister where you are not representing your voters."
In a scandal that has rocked the EU executive, Dalli was forced to resign last week after he was cited in an influence peddling probe into a lobbyist who had allegedly offered to try to sway the commissioner in return for cash. As EUbusiness reported, tobacco producer Swedish Match later claimed it was offered the chance to pay 60 million euros ($78 million) to thwart new EU tobacco legislation.
Dalli denies wrongdoing and says the tobacco lobby has framed him because he was working to introduce tough new anti-smoking rules.