The EU Committee of Permanent Representatives on Tuesday endorsed the appointment of Dr Tonio Borg as Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy. The final step is the formal approval by the the Council of Ministers this morning.
On Tuesday evening (Malta time) Dr Borg delivered his last address in Parliament and yesterday morning he resigned from his ministerial post in Cabinet and his seat as a MP. He had been an MP for 20 years and a minister since 2004, serving as Minister for Justice and Home Affairs and as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Dr Borg was elected in five consecutive general elections since 1992 and served as minister for 18 months between 1995-96 and for the 14 years since 1998.
In his farewell speech to the Maltese Parliament, for which his wife, children and several friends were present in the Strangers’ Gallery, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg told MPs that this was an arrivederci and not an addio. He said there was no greater honour than to be elected by the people to be their representative in Parliament.
Dr Borg said he had not sought his new position as European Commissioner but had taken up the challenge at the request of the prime minister in the national interest. Over the past three weeks he felt very close to students, having, like them, to study hard, submit himself to examination and suffer the anxiety of waiting for the result.
Dr Borg recalled his maiden speech in the House after the 1992 general election, when he had said that the outcome of that election was not somebody’s victory or somebody’s defeat, but a celebration of democracy. It was the principles of democracy which he had always sought to project in the House during the highs and the lows. He said he never meant to hurt anyone, inside or outside the House, and he apologised to those who felt he had failed them.
Dr Borg said he was proud to have played a role for Malta to join the European Union and, over the past eight years, in its integration in the Union and the Schengen zone, ensuring that Malta was able to punch above its weight.
He admitted that he would have been happier had the process for his nomination to serve as Commissioner been smoother, but, ultimately, good sense had prevailed . It had been shown that in the EU, one could still become commissioner despite having a philosophy of life which was different from that of a few.
Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg pledged to work for Europe while continuing to love Malta and never forgetting where he came from. His absence would make his heart grow fonder, he said.
He admitted a sense of sadness at leaving behind the sensible debates he had been part of in the House, with all the surprises and traditions they had provided, and leaving the constituents of Balzan, Lija, Birkirkara, Mosta and Attard who had always returned him to Parliament.
Dr Borg said he could not agree more with ex-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who said a week was a long time in politics.
In one week he himself was leaving Parliament as a Deputy Prime Minister and taking up his duties as a European Commissioner. He said he had never sought the new post because he had been happy in his work, but he could not turn his back on the Prime Minister’s call in unforeseen special circumstances.
In the 20 years he had spent in the House – after 10 years attempting to get in – he had always tried not to hurt anybody through the moments of difficulty, tension, disagreement, arguments and even harsh criticism.
His greatest honour and privilege did not result from being a minister but serving as an MP, because the seat had been given to him by the electorate.
Dr Borg said that under five different Speakers – Lawrence Gonzi, Myriam Spiteri Debono, Anton Tabone, Louis Galea and Michael Frendo – he had seen Malta becoming a worthy member of the EU and punching above its weight around the Union’s tables through different stages of historical developments.
His confirmation as EU Commissioner bore this out, even though he would have wished for a less laborious road there.
He expressed particular thanks to all the Opposition MPs who had shadowed him and other main speakers, including the whips of both sides. He felt he could not echo the late Pope John XXIII who, when asked how many people worked in the Vatican, had replied “about half of them”. All parliamentary staff in Malta were hard and honest workers.
Dr Borg said he would be eternally grateful to Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi, who had shown faith in him since 1982 and from both of whom he had learnt a lot.
Purposely leaving his family last, he reserved his greatest appreciation for his wife Adele, with whom he had grown and matured in law and politics. “She has always been a first-class customer care officer,” he said. He also thanked his children, apologising for not always having been there for them.
Dr Borg said his experience had shown that Maltese politicans were always close to the people. Without making them sound like martyrs, their sacrifices should be better appreciated. The greatest satisfaction in politics lay in helping someone to get their due and initiating legislation that stood the tests of time.
Dr Borg said the satisfaction he got in the past 20 years was in being in a position to help others achieve what they were entitled for and deserved.
Concluding, Dr Borg said his political life to date had been interesting and had matured him. It had not always been smooth but replete with memories, and he hoped to finish a book in Brussels that had been “in an advanced state for a very long time”. He wished to see politics in Malta done with more smiles, with those involved taking their work more seriously than they took themselves. Their principles were to be upheld “because they make us what we are”.
MPs from both sides of the House congratulated Dr Borg at the end of his speech.
Dr Borg will take up his appointment in the EU Commission in Brussels tomorrow Friday.