Could Roberta Metsola be the PN’s messiah for a 2027 bid?

Roberta Metsola’s incredible CV has inevitably boosted her stature as the best placed candidate to take on Labour in 2027 but it could verge on a mission impossible for her to overturn Labour’s majority next time round

Roberta Metsola
Roberta Metsola

Roberta Metsola’s incredible CV has inevitably boosted her stature as the best placed candidate to take on Labour in 2027.

But with Labour retaining its 2013 and 2017 majorities, it could verge on a mission impossible for Metsola to overturn Labour’s majority next time round, as this would require a seismic shift.

With such a massive margin, Metsola’s best hope would be that of doing what Bernard Grech failed to do this time; substantially reduce the gap between the parties. But would Metsola settle down for a long spell of leading her party from the opposition benches after stepping down from the heights of European politics?

Like Grech before her, Metsola will only be able to take on the role of PN leader mid-way through the next legislature. This would require a caretaker leader to keep the place for her to take. But this may well delay the reforms the party needs to re-invent itself as a viable coalition of liberals and conservatives, which can widen its appeal to voters who persist on voting Labour, despite corruption and the assassination of a journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Still despite the odds pitted against her, it is Metsola who has the making of a future PN leader. Metsola’s now-iconic refusal to shake hands with disgraced Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in his 2019 meeting with a ‘rule of law’ delegation from the EP, solidified her hawkish credentials and endeared her with a PN sect loyal to the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Re-elected in the 2019 European elections with a massive 38,000 votes, she has managed to appeal to both sides of the PN divide, as a competent, diligent and sober voice who did not shun Delia entirely. And crucially, she backed down from entering the fray by presenting herself as an alternative to Delia, effectively clearing the way for Bernard Grech, the man best placed to defeat Delia according to internal polls.

Had Grech managed to reduce the gap, Metsola would be in a much better position. She could have bided for her time. At 42 with four children still growing up, she could afford to wait to take her chance with the PN at a later stage in life.

But with Grech failing dismally in his mission to reduce the gap, Metsola’s name immediately pops up as the only saviour who can give her party some hope. But even had she wanted, Metsola is unable to participate in a leadership contest mandated by the party statute after the expected defeat, simply because she still has two years left in serving as EP president. So for Metsola to step in, Grech would need to stay on as caretaker to clear the path for his anointed successor.

But that also depends on rivals not stepping in the way. And as past experience shows, PN members may well be swayed by a candidate who is not favoured by the party establishment as Adrian Delia showed in 2017.

Moreover it cannot be taken for granted that Metsola is ready to serve immediately after the expiry of her term in EU politics. For a politician who has courted and achieved EU success, running a party on the brink of extinction, riven by insurmountable factional and ideological divides, this could be too much of a gamble. Yet by not answering the call in the hour of need, it could even spell an end to any local ambitions.

Running the PN would mean she has to redefine a party suffering from a chronic identity problem. Her European experience could mean she will want to articulate a more socially liberal and continental vision. But can she communicate as effectively with the working and lower middle-classes, which the PN needs to recover to have a chance of victory?

Metsola has strayed away from local controversies except for the anti-corruption crusade, revealing little about her ideological inclinations. Pragmatic and ambitious, she even turned a blind eye to the Bulgarian anti-corruption movement, not to alienate Bulgaria’s own EPP government and was despite repeatedly voting against references to abortion as an MEP she immediately committed respecting parliament’s position on this issue in her new role as President.

Yet the legitimacy bestowed upon her by her European role, makes her the most formidable adversary Labour could face in 2027. But if the post of leader is still available for her in two years’ time, Metsola will have to resign herself to a probable electoral defeat before having a more realistic chance in 2032.

That could be too much waiting for Malta’s most influential politician who currently attends European council meetings attended by Prime Ministers.