Malta's nominee to the European Commission Helena Dalli has landed the equality portfolio, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen announced on Tuesday.

The portfolio mirrors the one Dr Dalli had for the past six years as a minister - she resigned as Equality Minister in July following her nomination. 

Dr Dalli now faces a grilling by the European Parliament about her suitability for the role. 

In a tweet, Dr Dalli said she was "honoured and humbled" to have been given the role. 

The Nationalist Party has pledged to back her nomination “in the national interest”. 

She is the first Maltese woman to be nominated for a post in the EU’s executive.

President-elect von der Leyen has made gender equality a cornerstone of her Commission, with 13 women and 14 men among her team.

In a statement on Wednesday, Partit Demokratiku noted that the portfolio given to Malta tackled a very small remit of what was once a social policy portfolio. Moreover, no director-general reported to this portfolio.

“In political terms, this manifests a decline in Malta’s standing. It is a portfolio that does not help Malta to directly influence immigration, gaming, economy, finance, environment, tax, fisheries, trade or financial services. These are very important sectors for Malta. It is the weakest portfolio ever picked for Malta,” party leader Godfrey Farrugia said.

This was the result of how Dr Muscat’s government mishandled scandals that shamed or hurt Malta’s reputation and standing. It was indicative that Dr Muscat’s government did not command due esteem within EU institutions.

Dalli's equality track record 

During her tenure as Equality Minister, Dr Dalli steered through milestone legislation, including the marriage equality bill that allows marriage between same-sex couples and gives them the right to adopt children.

She also moved the gender recognition law to protect the rights of intersex people and a law banning conversion therapy in Malta.

The government said that president-elect von der Leyen had clearly selected Dr Dalli for the portfolio due to her excellent track record in equality matters. 

Malta was now considered a "beacon of hope" in the sector, it said. 

A leaked draft list of commissioners initially had Dr Dalli pegged for the justice portfolio, but this went to Belgian politician Didier Reynders.

Who have Malta’s past commissioners been? 

Malta’s first member of the college of commissioners was former foreign affairs minister Joe Borg, who had led Malta’s EU-accession negotiations in the run up to 2004.

He had served as fisheries and maritime affairs commissioner in both the Prodi and Barroso-led commissions.  

Without a doubt Malta’s most controversial commissioner, John Dalli had served as health commissioner between 2010 and 2012.

Mr Dalli was forced to resign by then commission president José Manuel Barroso following allegations that a close associate of Mr Dalli's had asked for bribes from the main producer of Swedish snus tobacco in return for help in changing European tobacco regulations.

A former deputy prime minister and speaker of the House, Tonio Borg had replaced Dr Dalli and served as health commissioner in Brussels.

Dr Borg’s nomination was the cause of some controversy due to his past statements on same-sex couples, women’s rights and abortion and he had been subjected to some tough questioning during his hearing by the members of the European Parliament. 

Labour stalwart Karmenu Vella became the PL’s first European Commissioner. 
Having served as minister in four different Cabinets during his long parliamentary career at home, Mr Vella was appointed Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner in 2014.