EU lawmakers approve abortion critic as top health official

Wed Nov 21, 2012 1:34pm EST
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By Claire Davenport

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament backed a devout Catholic as EU health commissioner on Wednesday, brushing off critics who fear the Maltese politician could row back on EU policies on stem cell research, abortion and gay rights.

Greens, Liberals and Socialists in the European Parliament had said they would vote against Tonio Borg, a former foreign and justice minister in Malta, saying his beliefs could influence EU policy.

As commissioner, Borg's remit would include access to healthcare and contraception and the control of sexually transmitted diseases.

Borg, who was in Malta on the day of the vote according to an EU Commission official, told EU lawmakers before the vote that his personal views would not affect his role as health commissioner.

"This is a victory of reason over intolerance and ideological partisanship," Richard Seeber, a lawmaker in the parliament's center-right EPP group, said in a statement.

"Tonio Borg's professional competences and his commitment to European values is decisive for us."

The 386-281 vote in parliament is not binding, as the 27 EU member states have final say. Twenty-eight lawmakers abstained.

If the European Council, which represents EU member states, decides to fast-track Borg's appointment, he could take office as early as next week, officials said.   Continued...

European Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner-designate Tonio Borg of Malta waits for his hearing before the European Parliament Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee in Brussels November 13, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir