A crowning achievement for Metsola (and Malta)

Many will expect Metsola to invest the credibility gained in Europe, in restoring the credentials of a sick party. The question, however, remains; will there even be a party to rescue in five years’ time?

Roberta Metsola’s ascension to the Presidency of the European Parliament, represents a crowning achievement for a small former colony which joined the EU in 2004: specifically, on the promise that its representatives will be on equal footing with politicians from larger countries.

The Presidency of the EU Parliament is the highest EU office ever to be occupied by a Maltese politician; and it attests to the high regard for Metsola among MPs from different political groups (including the Socialists and Liberal groups, which supported the EPP candidate).

And while Metsola will not be ‘representing Malta’, in that role – but rather, the positions of the entire European parliament - her election is nonetheless a boost for Malta’s soft power; as well as, to some extent, compensation for the reputational damage in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal,  and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

But the Maltese must also wake up to the reality that those elected to top EU positions, are meant to represent all EU citizens: and not just the people in their own country of origin.

Expecting Metsola to ‘represent Malta’s national interests’, as EP President, is not just parochial; but also counterproductive to those very national interests, which can only be enhanced if Metsola acts as an honest broker for all the member states represented in the EP (albeit hailing from a small island state).

In cases where the position of the EU parliament may even contrast with that of Malta, Roberta Metsola’s first loyalty must, of necessity, be towards the parliament which elected her to the post.

For much the same reason, it is also inevitable that Metsola’s election will have ramifications on the local political scene.  One elephant in the room is Malta’s criminalization of abortion: which stands in marked contrast to the majority view of the European Parliament, whose position Metsola will now be representing.

Despite her own voting record against any reference to reproductive rights, Metsola has already committed herself to represent the EP’s position in favour of safe and legal abortion.  So while abortion falls outside the scope of EU treaties, Metsola will have to voice the Parliament’s position against the restriction of abortion rights in member states.

This may be a bitter disappointment for those in Malta who demonise anyone who advocates this civil right; but Metsola’s statement is also a recognition of a European reality, where abortion is a mainstream issue supported by a wide majority.

Ultimately, by accepting to serve in a post in which she was bound to commit herself to voice the majority position, Metsola has sent a clear message that pro choice opinions are legitimate and respectable.

Otherwise, she would have refused, on principle, any post which inevitably conflicts with both her own personal views, and those of Malta’s government; and even more so those of the Nationalist Party, which has recently gone as far as declaring that there is ‘no space for pro-choice views’ within it.

Another ramification of Metsola’s election is on the Labour Party: whose propaganda machine has often vilified the MEP as a ‘traitor’ who works tirelessly  to undermine Malta’s interests.

To be fair, Abela himself - and other Labour MEPs - have shown maturity in supporting Metsola’s candidature; and the PN should be wary of tainting this moment of national pride and unity, by presenting it as a vindication of Metsola’s earlier antagonism towards the Labour government.

Still, the fact that Metsola enjoyed the support of more than two thirds of MEPs – including most Socialist MEPs – stands as confirmation of Metsola’s high standing in EU institutions.  And significantly, part of this respect was gained through her participation in rule of law committees, which had criticized the Maltese government.

But the greatest ramifications of Metsola’s election may well be felt within her own Nationalist Party.  For though her election to a top EU post excludes her from the running in any leadership contest after the next election, her high standing in EU inevitably will inevitably turn her into a reference point: for those Nationalists who are constantly awaiting a ‘Messiah’, to magically rescue the party from its current disarray.

Certainly, after clinching such a position, anything short of becoming Malta’s Prime Minister would be a demotion for Metsola.  Yet the EU stars are yet not aligned with those of the local political scene: for the simple reason that, after this year’s election, the PN will either confirm Grech, or elect a new leader… in a contest that Metsola cannot even compete in.

Nonetheless: boosted by her current standing, Metsola may still be in the running in five years’ time.  And even if she is not remotely interested, herself: there is no doubt that many in her party - especially on the liberal wings - consider her as the anointed one.

Likewise, many will expect Metsola to invest the credibility gained in Europe, in restoring the credentials of a sick party.  The question, however, remains; will there even be a party to rescue in five years’ time?

And the more pressing this question becomes, the greater will be the pressure on Metsola, to jump back into the local fray immediately after the expiry of her term in 2024.