Helena Dalli was all smiles as she exited a hearing before MEPs on Wednesday afternoon, having weathered three hours of questions without any major hiccups.
Dr Dalli was facing MEPs from four different parliamentary committees as part of her process to become the European Union’s first-ever commissioner specifically tasked with equality issues.
She fielded questions about anything from the gender pay gap to abortion and from working conditions for domestic workers to the Panama Papers.
While she skirted some of the thornier questions lobbed her way, she emerged relatively unscathed.
“She showed a profound knowledge of her portfolio,” women's rights and equality committee (FEMM) coordinator Evelyn Regner told the press after the hearing.
MEP Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, who coordinates a different committee – employment and social affairs (EMPL) - also responded positively, saying she had a “very good feeling about Dr Dalli” and her chances.
The EPP political grouping was more guarded, saying its MEP would have "liked to hear more detail" on some of the initiatives Dr Dalli planned on pursuing as Equality Commissioner.
Dr Dalli’s nomination must win the approval of at least two-thirds of coordinators if it is to be accepted.
Here is a minute-by-minute account of the hearing.
Support from a party colleague
Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola reacts
6pm If you've been in work all day and want to watch how Helena Dalli got on, here's the MEP grilling in full:
Short and sweet
5.41pm Onto a post-hearing press point, where coordinators of the FEMM and EMPL committees kept it brief.
“She showed a profound knowledge of her portfolio, which is really a wide field,” a FEMM committee coordinator said.
Austrian MEP Evelyn Regner praised Dr Dalli for her “deep understanding of people who are wounded, like intersexual boys and girls”.
“My quick impression is that she is someone who really knows to fight inequalities,” she added.
MEP Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová from the EMPL (employment and social affairs) said she had a “very good feeling about Dr Dalli”.
“She’s a very strong personality but the decision about whether she will be commissioner is not up to us, it’s down to the coordinators of our groups so we cannot take questions but have to hurry to the meetings.”
5.23pm Her hearing over, Dr Dalli is ushered out of the room – and judging by her initial off-the-cuff reaction, she feels the hearing went well.
MEP group coordinators will now discuss the hearing between themselves and vote on Dr Dalli’s nomination in secret. If at least two-thirds of them approve, she will be through.
MEPs will hold a press conference discussing the hearing within minutes, so stay put.
A slip of the tongue
5.21pm In her closing remarks, Dr Dalli draws on the example of children.
“Whenever I visited an elementary school or nursery, I always noticed how little children do not have a notion of discrimination,” she tells the room.
“Children do not discriminate, they do not hate. Discrimination is learnt later in life and we need to work to ensure that society unlearns discrimination.”
There’s still time for a slight slip of the tongue. “I know I have the room’s trust,” she begins before laughing and correcting herself.
“I know that if I have the room’s trust I will work for a Europe of equality with concrete results”.
The hearing ends with a round of applause.
No more questions
5.17pm MEPs have had the opportunity to ask their questions, and now it is time for Dr Dalli to make her closing remarks.
It’s been a fairly comfortable couple of hours for the Maltese commissioner-designate, who was applauded on several occasions by the people peppering her with questions.
Roma people ‘are Europe’s most discriminated’
5.15pm Dr Dalli says that one of her first visits will be to a Roma settlement and describes them as "Europe’s most discriminated".
There is a specific strategy on the Roma, she says, and an upcoming post-2020 framework will have a stronger focus on anti-gypsyism.
A third Daphne reference
5.10pm Another reference to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia – the third of the afternoon. This time it comes from an Italian MEP speaking English and the reference is framed as a compliment to Dr Dalli.
“After the painful realisation of the death of Ms Caruana Galizia it is good to see another strong Maltese woman,” the commissioner-designate is told.
What about paternal leave?
5.03pm A UK MEP says the work-life directive only affords men 10 days of paternal leave.
“It’s never enough, is it?” Dr Dalli replies with a smile.
The directive, she says, is a beginning and a good start.
In a follow up question, Dr Dalli is asked what will she do to concretely improve the 10-day provision “that will be more than workshops or talking”.
She says that that we will have to wait until the directive’s post-mortem.
No money, more problems
4.57pm Women’s financial independence is “of the essence”, Dr Dalli said.
Every woman should be able to financially support herself. Financially independent women, Dr Dalli says, are free to leave abusive relationships. This is why she wants to work to provide better access to training and employment.
4.51pm Dr Dalli agrees that working conditions for domestic workers leave much to be desired.
“Will you adopt measures to combat areas where there is a lot of insecurity such hotel cleaners?” MEP Eugenia Rodriguez Palop asks her.
Dr Dalli says work has already begun on this matter, and she has held meetings that touched upon this. So in short, the answer is “Yes these matters will be addressed"
'This is the leadership we need'
4.47pm Dr Dalli seems to have also won over MEPs working on anti-racism issues within the European Parliament.
“This is the leadership that we need in Europe to tackle racism/discrimination”, they say.
A bit of flattery
4.40pm Maltese S&D MEP Alex Agius Saliba opens his question with some flattery for compatriot and fellow Labour politician Dr Dalli.
As a Maltese citizen, he says, he cannot but be proud that she had been earmarked for the equality portfolio. "In Malta, you have been entrusted to lead a social revolution,” he says.
His question focuses on the work-life balance directive. Does she believe that the scope of the directive should be broadened?
“I believe the focus should be on implementation within the next three years. And then we can use a review clause to see whether we need to widen its scope,” she replies.
4.38pm It seems the Greens are fairly happy with the way Dr Dalli is faring.
“She seems to want to work with the Council in order to unblock key legislation on equality,” they say.
4.33pm We're entering the last hour of the grilling now. Dr Dalli will face around eight more questions from MEPs, along with their potential follow-ups. She will then be able to give a short closing address.
Caruana Galizia murder
4.30 pm There’s a Daphne Caruana Galizia-related aside. EPP MEP Eliza Vozemberg begins her question by expressing dismay that the murder case has not been solved.
Dr Dalli sticks to her previous statement and says efforts to solve the murder - she again uses the word “femicide” to describe it - are ongoing.
4.26pm A Polish MEP asks Dr Dalli about discrimination against Christians.
There are cases of people being fired from work for wearing Christian symbols or practicing Christian morals. How would Dr Dalli protect the rights of Christians from discrimination?
Dr Dalli again notes that a draft anti-discrimination directive (“that has been stuck for too long”) will be discussed at a high-level meeting later this month. Unblocking that directive is essential to enshrining anti-discrimination rules in EU law, she says.
When pushed on the matter, Dr Dalli offers a more religiously-themed reply to the question.
“I go by the maxim ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’” She says. “This is why this directive is so important.”
4.19pm Yet another round of applause for commissioner-designate Dalli, when she replies to a lengthy question about the implementation of directives on disability rights with a simple sentence.
“My answer is yes!” she says.
4.10pm The Istanbul Convention is raised. Some EU countries have yet to ratify it.
Dr Dalli says she will visit capitals and speak to reluctant member states to try and find an agreement on this matter. She says it is hard for her to understand the objections to resolving this matter. There are issues on wording, and she will seek to find solutions.
A follow-up question, in Italian, gets Dr Dalli replying in Italian too - and her agreement with the MEP’s frustrations prompts another round of applause.
Applause from a namesake
4.03pm S&D MEP Miriam Dalli is happy to hear of Dr Dallipromising to prioritise working to eliminate the gender pay gap.
"We should all be paid the same for the work of equal value we carry out," she tweets.
4pm A question on disability for Dr Dalli - what will she do on this matter?
By 2020 it is expected that one in every five will live with a disability to some degree, Dr Dalli says.
Employment rates for persons with a disability remain low, she says.. There is a disability strategy, which comes to a close next year and she will be working to unblock a directive which tackles this matter.
“We have the instruments, so we can work with them. the next step is to see what has been achieved. And map the way forward,” she says.
3.58pm It seems Mr Casa was not overly impressed by that last response.
"Even though her answer was scripted, her response left much to be desired," he tweets.
David Casa's turn to ask
3.46pm MEP David Casa rises to ask a question, and it's about the work-life balance directive which he has championed.
What would Dr Dalli do to ensure it is adopted by countries to help European families?
Also answering in Maltese, Dr Dalli says that while there is a three-year window for this to be implemented, as Commissioner she wants to get to work to help member states, including her own, to implement the directive as soon as possible.
In his follow up, Mr Casa turns to the rule of law.
"You were a member of Cabinet of politicians planning to receive €5,000 daily", he says, in reference to corruption allegations dogging minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri.
What would she do to ensure "that there is no law for the gods and law for the animals?"
Dr Dalli replies by listing a variety of good governance laws she helped push through.
"These are my credentials," she says with a smile.
3.44pm The questioning again turns to the sexual and reproductive rights of women. What will she do to ensure against backpedaling on these rights, as appears to be happening in some Member States?
Dr Dalli assures the chamber that she believes in these rights.
On the clock
3.39pm That's an awfully long minute... the chamber clock malfunctions and Dr Dalli inadvertently getsto speak for more than her allotted time.
Meanwhile, she tells the chamber how she had seen children’s books which taught youngsters that women can be mothers, but they could even be scientists or law makers.
'What took her so long?'
3.33pm Maltese and EPP MEP Roberta Metsola is glad to hear Dr Dalli disavow the Panama Papers mess.
"Good that Helena Dalli refused to defend the inexcusable actions of disgraced Malta Minister Konrad Mizzi", she writes on Twitter.
A sombre moment
3.29pm Dr Dalli recounts the tale of a young girl who she had met who later committed suicide, because she was not accepted as someone had changed her gender.
“This is what we as legislators are tasked with working against,” Dr Dalli said, prompting a round of applause.
On the follow-up question from a fired-up far right MEP, Dr Dalli is asked whether she is concerned that some may opt for gender reassignment to have an unfair advantage in sport.
Gender reassignment is “certainly not a walk on the park”, Dr Dalli shoots back. Cue another round of applause.
In case you missed it...
3.23pm Here is a video clip of Helena Dalli dissociating herself from the way her own government handled the Panama Papers.
3.21pm Green MEP Alice Kuhnke wants details about how Dr Dalli will tackle the so-called Horizontal Anti-Discrimination Directive, which has been blocked at various stages for several years.
Dr Dalli says she will await a high-level meeting scheduled for next month directly on the matter, but she personally is committed to this matter.
A mumble of discontent
3.12pm A question related to her portfolio now. Women’s rights are human rights, but can she say which three things she will do towards improving sexual reproductive rights?
Helena Dalli says she is a committed feminist, and gives her word that she will do all possible to protect sexual reproductive rights. She will stand strong in the face of resistance. “When you stand your ground, you find allies to build coalitions for the willing”
A mumble comes from the floor: "you are not answering the question".
'I would have done things very differently'
3.05pm Dr Dalli describes Ms Caruana Galizia's murder as a "femicide" and says there has been progress in the ongoing murder investigation.
She wastes little time in distancing herself from the government's Panama Papers scandal: "I would have done things very differently," she tells MEPs.
"As minister and in parliament, I have always worked for a pushed towards the rule of law and transparency."
Into the deep end
3pm Helena Dalli is immediately asked about both the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the Panama Papers by Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald.
Applause for Dr Dalli
2.58pm Dr Dalli is applauded as she concludes her opening remarks. She says that as a minister she has sat on council meetings and seen for too long, a number of directives that remain blocked. “How can I explain this to our citizens?” she asks.
Her plan for her first 100 days
2.56pm Dr Dalli says that within the first three months of her mandate, she will set up a new task force on equality which will be tasked with weaving equality into new and existing policies of the EU.
In the first 100 days, she will also work on steps towards improving pay transparency, and get the ball rolling to introduce concrete measures on addressing gender pay gaps.
2.50pm Her speech is in large part a reflection of what she wrote in reply to written questions by MEPs.
She makes pledges to collaborate and to deliver on the tasks put to her by Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen.
Equality needs to be enjoyed by everyone, she says.
“All my life I have done everything within my power to improve the lives of cizitens.”
'We have a hammer'
2.42pm After a brief introduction and an explanation of the rules, the hearing begins.
There will be two rounds of questions. MEPs will have on slots of five minutes to ask their questions. The chairs will strictly measure the time - "we have a hammer here and we are not afraid to use it."
Dr Dalli has 15 minutes to make her introductory remarks, and she begins with a few words in Maltese before switching to English.
2.37pm Dr Dalli’s hearing is not the only one taking place right now. In another chamber, a different group of MEPs is questioning France’s nominee to the Commission, Sylvie Goulard.
Ms Goulard is a former MEP herself and more recently served as France’s defence minister. Ursula Von der Leyen has selected her for the industrial policy and digital single market porfolio.
Earlier today, Beligum’s nominee Didier Reynders performed well during his hearing to become Justice Commissioner – despite a 20-minute power cut which forced organisers to quickly switch venues.
2.35pm The chamber is filling up as MEPs take their seats for what is set to be a long affair. Speaking outside the chamber, one MEP said "grab a coffee and get comfortable, we're in for three hours.
Who will do the grilling
2.25pm These hearings are no foregone conclusions. We already know that Dr Dalli will probably face some tough questions about abortion.
We also know that Poland's nominee Janusz Wojciechowski had a torrid time during his hearing on Tuesday and will probably have to reappear before MEPs for a second go.
The committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) is associated with the hearing and the committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Petitions has also been invited to attend - they too can pose questions.
Here’s a detailed guide on what to expect out of session and how it all works - from the possible questions Dr Dalli will face, to the format, and what happens if she passes or fails.
What to expect
2.20pm Dr Dalli will first make a 15-minute introductory statement that is expected to be based on her replies to a set of written questions from MEPs.
She will then answer 25 questions, and possibly follow-ups, asked by MEPs from a number of parliamentary committees.
Once that's done, group coordinators among the MEPs will discuss and vote in secret on her nomination. She needs a two-thirds majority to be approved.
2.17pm Helena Dalli's hearing is expected to begin in around 15 minutes, and the chamber at the European Parliament building is still relatively empty at this stage.
Just a few reporters inside the hall, which will fill up in the minutes to come.
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