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Helena Dalli approved as Equality Commissioner, ‘with reservations’

Malta MP Helena Dalli commissioner designate
Source: EP / Jean-Christophe Verhaegen.

Helena Dalli has been approved as Equality Commissioner after a three-hour session on Wednesday, with “a large number of reservations”.

Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald was the first to take the floor in the hearing for Helena Dalli’s nomination as EU Equality Commissioner, asking her how she would protect journalists.

In her reply, Dalli referred to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination as “femicide”. The killing of Malta’s most prominent journalist in a car bomb on 16 October 2017 has never been described in these terms in the two years since her death.

Yet before the Committee of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality at the European Parliament, Dalli chose to phrase Caruana Galizia’s death as one where she was killed because she was a woman and not because she was a journalist.

Dalli described the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s assassination as being at a stage of “significant progress”. Only two days earlier, the government Dalli served was criticised for its failure in investigating the journalist’s assassination.

“I will do all in my power to guarantee a free press – free from harassment and intimidation,” Dalli said, making no effort to put forward any track record in this regard.

Greek EPP MEP, lawyer Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi, said: “It is a blow for democracy and rule of law in your country that you haven’t found the perpetrator” of Caruana Galizia’s murder – “not because she was a woman but because she fought for the truth and an investigative journalist.”

On Panama Papers, Dalli faced questions about her silence. “Do you agree with the Minister’s actions at the time? What lessons have you learnt from government at that point and how will you put them into practice in your role as Commissioner?” Fitzgerald asked.

Dalli replied: “I do not agree with his actions – I would have done things totally differently.”

“I stood up for good governance and rule of law and democracy,” she added. PN MEP David Casa pressed on this point, raising the €5,000 a day in kickbacks from 17 Black for top government officials. How would she ensure it was not about “one law for gods and one law for the animals,” he asked?

Dalli religiously following scripted answers that did not go unnoticed, amid criticism that she failed to answer questions put to her.

When asked about sexual and reproductive health and rights, Dalli gave her word that she would do all that was possible to protect them. She gave assurances to all those sceptical that she would “respect the Treaties” on reproductive rights, a controversial issue in her home country.

As concerns were raised on the rights of migrants, Dalli said that one of her first visits as Commissioner would be to the Roma people “to fight gypsyism”. MEPs raised concerns on women refugees and guarantees of equality.

Austrian MEP and Chair of the EU Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Evelyn Regner, praised Dalli’s extensive commitments but warned: “Only make promises that you can keep”.

As Commissioner, Dalli said she would focus on three main areas: discrimination, inclusion and empowerment of women and promotion of equality for all groups and full participation across all sectors.

Within three months, she would set up an equality task force to build an intersectional approach for equality in all EU policies and propose new measures for pay transparency while continue working on gender and pension pay gap.

“I will also closely monitor work-life balance directive to ensure it is fully and properly implemented in all Member States. I want it to be a success story,” she said on the directive conceived and implemented by PN MEP David Casa.

Read: What is Helena Dalli’s track record on gender equality?

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