Former minister Helena Dalli, who has been nominated to be the EU's equality commissioner, is busy preparing for the grilling by MEPs, who have the final say on whether the nomination should be accepted. She told Ivan Martin she will address all MEP questions in full honesty and truthfulness. 

What would you say is the single greatest equality challenge facing the EU today?

The toughest nut to crack will be tackling stereotypes. My experience is that few people oppose equality per se, but then, after they expand their thoughts, a sizable percentage of people do voice that they do not discriminate “but”. I am certain that I will meet that “but” on different levels and I will need to convince those people that their “buts” are part of the problem and not the solution.

In Malta you were tasked with overseeing the equality ministerial portfolio. Do you see your prospective position as Equality Commissioner as a continuation of the work you started here?

I will surely be building on the domestic experience and knowledge, as well as the European and international contacts I built in this sector while minister. Nonetheless, the work at European level is quite different in terms of the processes that need to be conducted, and the approvals that need to be sought prior to the supporting of an initiative. 

According to the mission letter sent to you by president Ursula von der Leyen, you have been tasked with developing a new European Gender Strategy. What would this look like?

The European Union had multiple gender equality strategies until the last Commission when a decision was taken to have a document for strategic engagement instead. The new European Gender Equality Strategy will need to focus on mainstreaming both within the institutions themselves, and the work of all of the Directorate Generals. The strategy will need to include reference both to new legislative proposals as well as incisive policy measures. 

You have also been tasked with doing more to crack down on gender-based violence and provide better support for victims. Isn’t this a Member State competence?

Gender-based violence is a European issue as much as climate change and economic crises. One in three adult women in Europe have been subjected to gender-based violence, and one in four women to domestic violence at some point in their lives. This is a crisis. To address this, the EU already has adopted legislation to lay out minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime and access to justice.

During Malta’s EU Council Presidency, the EU signed the Istanbul Convention. One priority as a Commissioner for Equality would be to continue working towards the ratification of this Convention. Should the Council not approve, we would push for the strengthening of the victims of crime directive. Meanwhile, I would strengthen the number of EU actions in this area to support the upgrading of systems related to the prevention of violence, protection and support of victims, prosecution of offenders and integrated policy frameworks.

As prospective commissioner, you are the only member of the college without a Director-General.  The perception it may create is that equality isn’t seen as a priority by Brussels.

President-elect von der Leyen elevated equality to a standalone portfolio and included a number of ambitious equality targets in her political guidelines. My nomination as Commissioner-designate for equality is a first for the European Commission and this development has been lauded.

The secretary-general is currently developing the terms of reference for an equality task force composed of experts from the Commission services to support the work across all the relevant units.

This will, in turn, lead to the mainstreaming of equality across the board and will structurally elevate equality to a horizontal matter. The claim that there is no DG for equality is misinformed. Incidentally, I had a long meeting with my Director General yesterday.

Your next big hurdle will be the grilling by MEPs during which you can expect to face questions over concerns on Malta’s rule of law as detailed by the Venice Commission, the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the Council of Europe call for a public inquiry, and the Panama Papers. What position will you take on these three issues? 

Immediately after my formal nomination, I started contacting MEPs with the intention of having direct conversations with them.

I want to listen to their agendas and concerns, and I want to inform them how I intend to proceed with implementing my ambitious work programme. I will address all questions raised in full honesty and truthfulness.

Have you given any thought to who will form part of your team?

I am currently being assisted by a transition team consisting of two career civil servants: one is a former senior diplomat with a strong EU institutional background and the other an expert on equality. 

On a personal note, will you be moving to Brussels or splitting your time between Malta and Brussels?

I shall see what works best.

The interview was conducted via e-mail.

Casa indicates Dalli will not have an easy ride

Nationalist Party MEP David Casa appeared to break ranks with his party’s unqualified approval of EU Commissioner-designate Helena Dalli yesterday, demanding an “unequivocal condemnation” of rule of law failings from her when she appears before MEPs later this month.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Casa (pictured right) said Dr Dalli had to disavow Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi and the government’s double standards. Mr Schembri, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, and minister Konrad Mizzi remain in office despite the Panama Papers having revealed that they set up secret offshore structures.

“We expect unequivocal condemnation of this during her Parliament hearing,” Mr Casa wrote.

In his post yesterday, Mr Casa gave an indication of where his thoughts lie.

‘Helena Dalli can’t hope to secure the post of Equality Commissioner if she continues to close an eye to the blatant inequality in how people are treated in Malta. Normal citizens face the law, whilst her colleagues are protected at all costs,” he wrote.

When contacted, the other PN MEP Roberta Metsola kept her cards close to her chest. "Everything I need to tell Helena Dalli, I will do so in a meeting next week. Before that meeting I do not think it fair or prudent to comment further".

A PN spokesman told Times of Malta that the party’s position remained unchanged.

Under EU rules, commissioner-designates are first assessed for potential conflicts of interest by the EP’s legal affairs committee.

After that initial screening, they must appear before a panel of MEPs for three hours of questions. A maximum of 25 questions are allowed, ideally grouped together by theme.  Candidates must be approved by at least two-thirds of members to pass.

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