Updated | Metsola head of cabinet will not be brother-in-law

Long-time assistant of EP president will not be elevated to head of cabinet as timing with Qatargate reforms prompts questions to Metsola

Roberta Metsola has defended promoting her long-time assistant, brother-in-law Matthew Tabone, to the role of head of cabinet
Roberta Metsola has defended promoting her long-time assistant, brother-in-law Matthew Tabone, to the role of head of cabinet

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola will not be appointing her long-time aide, and brother-in-law to the post of head of cabinet, as claimed in the Italian press in a story that featured comments on the matter from her office.

Matthew Tabone, Metsola’s long-time assistant and head of her private office, will not be elevated to the post of the EP president’s chef de cabinet, where, Il Foglio reported, he would take the place of Alessandro Chiocchetti, who is now EP secretary-general.

Instead, Leticia Zuleta de Realas Ansaldo, will be taking up the position. She is currently one of the EP president’s deputy head of cabinet responsible for operations.

Metsola’s office however had told Italian newspaper Il Foglio that Tabone’s potential appointment, which apparently was not denied at the time the questions were made, was “in line with both the spirit and the letter of the law” and that as a person of trust appointment, “it is up to the President to nominate someone in whom she has trust.”

While EP rules from 2009 ban MEPs from appointing direct relations, Tabone is not considered a first-degree relative. In a tongue-in-cheek riposte to Il Foglio, Metsola’s spokesperson said the president “does not consider that divorce is either convenient or legal for Tabone to assume this position” and that she had “little influence on who falls in love with whom”.

Metsola was being challenged on the timing of the appointment over the Qatargate scandal that has rocked the EP and its implications over nepotism and undue influence in the EP.

While Tabone could have been slated to take up responsibilities as an interim head of cabinet to handle administrative matters up until there was a replacement for Chiocchetti, Metsola’s spokesperson did not deny the appointment as being “necessary to implement the necessary reforms the Parliament needed in the wake of the corruption crisis.”

Reactions to the news came frrom Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer, questioning whether the appointment was either meritocratic or an act of good governance – accusations often lobbed against the Labour government by the Nationalist Party Metsola belongs to. “I have been talking for weeks about the backroom deals inside the EP. Everything is done behind people’s backs, intentionally, with a great lack of transparency and accountability. Even Transparency International has condemned these actions.”

The independent politician Arnold Cassola, a one-time secretary-general of the European Greens in the EP, wrote a complaint to EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly on the appointment. "If it is still legally possibly for parliamentarians to employ close relatives as their staff, the Ombudsman should point out that this is not only unethical but should also recommend that this practice is declared illegal."

All the EU leaders have installed close aides as their heads of cabinet: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen drafted in Bjorn Seibert, who followed her straight from the defence ministry she led in Germany; and Council president Charles Michel brought in his former ‘Sherpa’ when he was Belgian prime minister, Frédéric Bernard as his cabinet head.

The role of head of cabinet, paid at some €15,000-€20,000 a month, involves maintaining relations with political groups and the EP’s various administrative units, as well as other institutions.

Tabone has been Metsola’s assistant since 2013.