Dhe European Parliament elected Roberta Metsola from Malta as its new President in the first ballot on Tuesday. The Christian Democrat MP got 458 votes and thus the necessary absolute majority in the chamber, which is 309 votes. Politically, it was supported by its own EPP group, by Social Democrats and Liberals, who combined 423 seats. The national conservative EKR parliamentary group also promised her support. Metsola follows Italian Social Democrat David Sassoli, who died last week; Parliament commemorated him on Monday evening in a funeral service. Sassoli’s term of office would have expired this week anyway, he had refrained from running again.
As usual, Metsola immediately took over the chair of the Strasbourg plenary session after her election. She is “humbly honored” by the responsibility she has been given, she said. She always wants to stand up for a “politics of hope”, for a safe, fair and equal European Union. One must fight against an anti-European narrative; the Union is being challenged from within and without. She opposed discrimination based on religion, skin color and gender. The “bubbles” in Strasbourg and Brussels must be broken to bring Europe closer to the citizens, she said.
Metsola turned 43 on the day of her election. There was never a predecessor who was younger. In fact, before her stood only two women at the head of Parliament, which has been elected directly by the citizens since 1979: the first female President, Simone Veil, and Nicole Fontaine, whose term of office ended twenty years ago.
Liberal, but against abortion
Metsola is also the first Maltese to take on a top European role. She has been a member of Parliament since 2013, when she replaced a party colleague. Since then she has been involved – as a member of the internal committee – with civil rights, equality, the fight against corruption and a reform of migration policy. She belongs to the liberal wing of her party family, but rejects abortion rights. This corresponds to the legal situation in Catholic Malta, where abortions are forbidden by law. However, it met with strong opposition on the political left in Parliament and was the reason why the Greens entered the race with their own candidate. The Swede Alice Bah Kuhnke got 101 votes, the left-wing politician Sira Rego 57 votes.
Metsola presented itself on Tuesday as a bridge builder. “Our president must be able to build consensus, listen, bridge differences while maintaining the political center,” she said when she briefly presented her candidacy in the morning plenary session. She will not shy away from difficult decisions and will always represent Parliament’s views. She pledged to modernize Parliament, its working methods and debates to make them “more modern, effective and efficient”. In particular, she wants to work to ensure that MEPs also have the right of initiative, which up to now and in accordance with the EU Treaty has been the sole property of the EU Commission.
Manfred Weber secured her choice
The lawyer from Malta owes her nomination to EPP parliamentary group leader Manfred Weber (CSU), who has sponsored and supported her in recent years. She was nominated by her own faction in November with a surprisingly clear majority. Weber secured her election with a pact on posts and positions that he made with the other two major party families, the Social Democrats and the Liberals. The Social Democrats are to receive five of the 14 vice-presidential posts, the Liberals three, and the Conservatives also three – that is one post more than the parliamentary groups are entitled to according to the usual distribution key. The national conservative EKR parliamentary group should also get a post; in return, she withdrew her candidate for the presidency of Parliament on Tuesday morning. “Metsola is a conservative politician and is the politically closest to us of any candidate,” a spokesman said. The Vice Presidents will also be elected on Tuesday.
The losers of these agreements are the Greens, who are expected to lose a vice post. Their group leader, Philippe Lamberts, complained on Tuesday about a “dictatorship of the majority” of which the other parties had no reason to be proud. The Greens were willing to enter into substantive negotiations with the other three parties, but “they never took place”.