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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Euro chief's brush with Welsh law

By Guto Thomas
BBC Wales Europe Correspondent

European commissioner Joe Borg: picture - European Commission
Malta's 400,000 population makes it the smallest new EU member
Wales will still have a voice in the European Commission when former Labour leader Neil Kinnock stands down as vice-president this year.

Maltese Minister for Foreign Affairs Joe Borg became a commissioner on 1 May as 10 new states joined the European Union.

He has fond memories of his time in Wales in the late 1980s as a postgraduate law student.

But it could have been very different thanks to two police officers who almost arrested him on unfounded suspicion of car theft.

I kept having visions of trying to explain to my wife and kids why I was calling them from the cell of a Welsh prison
Joe Borg
He received his masters in European law from Aberystwyth in 1988 after submitting his thesis on harmonising company law in Europe.

He told BBC Wales his stay in west Wales represented a happy time, and apart from his academic work, he visited places such as Caernarfon, Swansea, Bangor and Tenby.

Dr Borg's family also came to live with him in a cottage near Aberystwyth. His children attended St Padarn's School, where they were given a warm welcome by the teaching staff, and learnt how to sing Penblwydd Hapus (Happy Birthday) in Welsh.

But it wasn't entirely plain sailing.

Dr Borg, aged 52, recalled: "I had driven overland from Malta to Wales with my family to take up residence for one year.

European commissioner Joe Borg - picture: European Commission
Dr Borg hopes to help combat global poverty in his new role
"One time a friend of mine, who is very well versed in the mechanics of cars, came to stay with us.

"He suggested to me that since my car had covered such a distance it was best if we aligned the position of the tyres of the car to ensure good road holding."

Covered in oil

"As we were driving that afternoon, we pulled over in a desolate country spot and jacked up the car to switch round the tyres.

"We must have been spotted by some residents of a faraway cottage who found our behaviour a little suspicious. Pretty soon a police car came past and pulled over.

"They found the two of us bent over switching tyres and started to question us on suspicion of auto theft.

"They immediately wanted to arrest us and take us into the local police station. I, by then completely covered in oil, tried to explain to them that it was really my car and that I was living in Wales for a year.

"They found my story unconvincing and after my repeated appeals to them, I convinced them to call my landlady to verify my story, a Mrs Evans, an extremely kind person who lived with her husband and son just down the road to where we were staying.

"After many apologies the police left and we continued with our afternoon labour.

"I kept having visions of trying to explain to my wife and kids why I was calling them from the cell of a Welsh prison."

Like the other nine new commissioners, Dr Borg does not have a specific portfolio. Instead, he has been "twinned" with Poul Nielson, the Danish commissioner for development and humanitarian aid.

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