Sunday, 18 November 2012

The wrong Borg

This article was published in The Malta Independent on sunday 18th November 2012

Dr Tonio Borg would make a formidable EU Commissioner.  His nomination does not deserve the resistance it is finding in the European Parliament, though in the end his nomination should still receive majority endorsement.
It is verging on the insulting that such endorsement is being made conditional to Dr Borg’s delivering once again a public reaffirmation of his unambiguous and full commitment to;
·         Respect and abide by the EU charter of fundamental human rights in particular Article 21 thereof as well as the EU anti-discrimination legislation and case law.

·         Recognise the innate dignity of all Citizens of the EU regardless of their sexual orientation or distinctions mentioned in Article 21, and to treating as Commissioner of Health and Consumer Policy and as a member of the College of Commissioners, all citizens of the EU fairly and equally; actively working to address health inequalities and to acting against the stigmatisation of people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

·         Actively support EU policies with regards to women’s rights.

I would have thought that Dr Tonio Borg dispelled any reservations that MEP’s might have had with regards to these issues very clearly in the extensive question session in front of Parliament last Tuesday.  Seeking further re-affirmation is humiliating not just to Dr Borg but to the government and the country that nominated him.    Whatever personal opinion he holds, in his political career Dr Borg has never been accused of discriminating against women, or against minorities due to their sexual orientation or other characteristics which are part of the fundamental human rights.   Quite the contrary I would say.   He could be accused of discriminating against Labourites but that is normality in Malta.
The truth is however that the nomination of Dr Tonio Borg, while suitable was inappropriate and does not serve the interests of Dr Borg himself, the country or the EU.   It only serves the interest of the PN.
Dr Borg is practically ending his political career cold turkey for the prospect of spending less than 2 years as EU Commissioner.   Yet he is taking over a very challenging portfolio for which he is ill-prepared and has little or no time to learn.  He has to hit the ground running from day one.
For Malta it is unfair that at a time of great parliamentary instability Dr Borg’s nomination is being used as a pretext to delay crucial decisions and is thus perpetuating the state of chronic uncertainty that has gripped the nation ever since government’s parliamentary majority turned shaky.   Such delay means that the nation will in all probability face the festive season without an approved Budget for 2013 ( this has only happened in 1996 when understandably the incoming Labour government of 26th October 1996, presented the Budget for 1997 on 15th January 1997) and possibly under a caretaker government if the Budget fails the parliamentary hurdle when put to vote.
For the EU it is unfair as Malta could have nominated former Commissioner Dr. Joe Borg who already knows the ropes of the Berlaymont, would have fitted into the job much quicker and would not have found humiliating resistance at the European Parliament.
So we have nominated the wrong Borg purely to accommodate the political needs of the PN.
Consider what the PN has gained through the nomination of Dr Tonio Borg.
It has created a vacancy in the position for Deputy Leader gaining an opportunity to present a somewhat refreshed younger face on the leadership ticket for the next election.   It is very unlikely that any political party would have an opportunity to ditch its Deputy leader in a superficially respectable manner just before entering an election campaign.   The nomination of Dr Borg to EU Commissioner presented the PN such a unique opportunity to attempt to shake the electorate’s mindset by presenting those seeking change with an internal version of it.   It is a move meant to remix the concrete which was about to set solid in favour of Labour.
It has deflected attention from its fragile position in parliament and basically frozen all parliamentary work until the process of Dr Borg’s confirmation is concluded.
By persuading (pushing may describe it better) the Minister for Finance and Economy, Tonio Fenech, to throw his name in the lottery hat for the Deputy Leader election, it has created the supposition why the Budget cannot be presented by mid-November as has been the long standing practice, and consequently papering over time the PN parliamentary cracks for some more by delaying the crucial budget vote.   Mr Fenech ought to know he does not stand a chance in front of the nomination of Dr Simon Busuttil and this for two reasons.   Fenech does not offer the refreshed face credentials that Busuttil offers.   Secondly the PN is not ready to break with its tradition to elect members from the legal profession to its leadership.   Ask John Dalli!
In the meantime the Minister of Finance, rather than focus on the Budget and see how the increased deficit of EUR 94 million registered in the first 9 months of this year compared to the first 9 months of 2011 is going to be reined in to meet the full year budgetary target, he has to deal with the distraction not only of his electoral constituency as the election inevitably draws near, but also has to lobby favour from the PN delegates who will be voting in the Deputy Leadership race.
The EU has lifted the Excessive Deficit Procedure against Malta on expectation that the deficit for 2012 will in fact remain below 3% and will hit 2.6%of GDP as projected.   How this assumption fits in with a EUR 94 million adverse deviation in the first 9 months remains unexplained.   Yet once government accounting is still done on a cash basis the Minister can hit whatever deficit level his heart desires merely by keeping unpaid bills in the in-tray and shifting revenue from next year to this year.   The well-established pattern where even on a seasonally comparative basis the budget deficit is reined in the last quarter of each year and then explodes in the first quarter of the subsequent year bear witness to this fiddling of figures which would not be possible if we had the well overdue government-wide accrual accounting system.
Much has been said about the following pronouncement in the Malta section of the European Commission – European Economic Forecast Autumn 2012:
“energy inflation is forecast to strengthen under the assumption of an increase in electricity prices”
Government says electricity prices will not go up as government will if necessary subsidise them as it did in 2012.  The Opposition has promised to reduce utility rates if elected and say that the European Commission does not make any such assumptions of its own accord.  Such assumption must have been picked up from submissions made from the Malta side.  In fact the assumption is Malta specific and does not apply for other countries.  And if you ask me, barring a Middle East flare-up, I can see energy prices trending down in 2013 as the international economic tempo remains very weak and supplies are increasing as the US is rapidly moving towards self-sustainability or even surplus in energy consumption.
To my simple mind inflation from increase in electricity prices will only result if government does not subsidise and the fact the EU made reference to ‘increase in electricity prices’ means that someone must have told Budget Commissioner that post election 2012 subsidies will be phased out and the burden passed on to the consumer.   After all is that not what happened after the 2008 election?

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