Sunday, 14 July 2019, 09:00 Last update: about 14 hours ago
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat will be nominating both European Affairs and Equality Minister Helena Dalli and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna for European Commissioner, The Malta Independent on Sunday has learnt.
Muscat appeared to have been torn between the two – who are reportedly both very eager to take up the Brussels post – but his problem has been ‘solved’ after European Commission President-designate Ursula von der Leyen asked all EU heads of state to nominate two candidates each – one man and one woman.
Von der Leyen, who is Germany’s defence minister, told MEPs this week that she wants a commission “with half male and half female commissioners.”
As the European Union’s executive body, the European Commission is tasked with proposing new laws, which are then scrutinised by the European Parliament and European Council.
Von der Leyen was nominated to succeed Jean Claude Juncker and is expected to face a vote before the European Parliament next week. If confirmed, she will have to form a ‘cabinet’ comprised of one member from each member state. Each commissioner is allocated a portfolio by the president, including agriculture, security, or finance.
Karmenu Vella currently serves as Malta’s commissioner and is responsible for the fisheries and maritime sector.
According to sources, Finance Minister Scicluna is not interested in contesting another general election on account of his age, but is eager to give the EU job a go. While Scicluna has been praised in some quarters for Malta’s record economic growth, he is certain to face tough grilling by MEPs about issues such as the Panama Papers, Malta’s money laundering failures and Pilatus Bank.
European Affairs and Equality Minister Helena Dalli has also reportedly demanded that Muscat nominate her for the post. Sources say she expects Muscat to back her this time round, after he supported Scicluna, rather than her, in the Labour Party deputy leadership race. Dalli also expects the prime minister’s in light of her track record in the civil liberties field, which has placed Malta among the highest-ranked countries in the world in terms of LGBTIQ rights.
The sources say, however, that while Dalli is not politically responsible for incidents and scandals that have shamed Malta abroad, she will likely still be grilled about these matters by MEPs.
The Malta Independent on Sunday reported last January that there were four possible candidates for the post: Dalli and Scicluna, as well as Louis Grech and Miriam Dalli, but the choice has since been narrowed down to two.
The government recently called on the Opposition to state whether it would back Malta’s nominee, pointing out that the PN had not done so in past cases. But the Opposition retorted that it could not commit to backing a candidate that had not yet been named. It questions why the government has still not announced its candidate for the post of EU commissioner.
Sources have suggested that one reason could be Prime Minister Muscat’s apparent trouble choosing between Scicluna and Dalli, although this will no longer be an issue.
Will Von der Leyen’s plan work?
In 2014, Jean Claude Juncker also tried to appoint a gender-balanced commission but failed. While Ursula von der Leyen hopes to achieve this aim, she will first have to get the role.
On Thursday, the European Parliament’s leadership announced that the assembly vote on Ursula von der Leyen’s nomination will take place next Thursday, 16 July.
The German defence minister will address MEPs in the morning and her nomination will be debated until noon. The vote will take place at 6pm in Strasbourg.
Von der Leyen needs at least 376 votes in the 751-member parliament. The European People’s Party backs her with its 182 MEPs. But there is considerable opposition from the Socialist and Greens camps, which say they are not convinced she has the right credentials and that she has failed to come up with concrete proposals.
She is still expected win a majority of the votes in parliament. If MEPs vote her down, EU leaders will have a month to nominate someone else.