Metsola could be pushed for top EP job. But will MEPs respect rotation deal?

Liberals and Greens hint that it is time the European Parliament is led by a woman, but jury is out on whether an EPP candidate will be supported for the next two years of the presidency

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola with EP president David Sassoli
Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola with EP president David Sassoli

A forthcoming mid-term election for the next European Parliament president could be taking a new direction in Brussels, over whether political groups will respect a ‘rotational’ deal between the two largest groups to elect first a socialist, then a member of the European People’s Party as president of the EP.

Incumbent socialist MEP David Sassoli could be bidding for a second term as president after the head of the EPP group, Manfred Weber, said he will forgo a possible candidature to instead secure the dual presidency of both his MEPs’ group and the EPP national parties’ group, currently held by former Council president Donald Tusk.

This has created room for the possible nomination of Maltese MEP and vice-president of the European Parliament, Robert Metsola for election to the post of EP president.

But in a return from their recess on Tuesday, MEP presidents’ briefings ahead of the State of the Union address were focused on whether they will respect the rotation of presidents from socialists to the EPP.

The S&D president Iratxe Garcia Perez was especially pressed by journalists as to whether her group had a categorical position on respecting the rotation of the presidency.

“The EPP is not going to decide on the timetable of the socialist group. At the moment, our group wants to work on the policies we have on the table… we’re concerned with our citizens’ preoccupations. As we always said, we will talk with all European political forces about the second part of the legislature, because we are responsible… At the moment, we are not yet dealing with the issue,” she said.

Garcia Perez said the EPP had not even decided on its prospective candidate, and that the S&D itself had not yet taken a position on the matter, skirting a clear yes or no on whether the socialists would respect the rotation of the presidency.

Garcia Perez said Sassoli had been “an extraordinary” president for the European Parliament during a difficult year. “We are talking about the future of an institution, not the person here, and how the socialist group can ensure this future. When we will broach this debate, we’ll bear all this in mind.”

The co-president of the Greens, German MEP Ska Keller, said her group supported a mid-term election for a president but expressed caution on statements by political groups “which think they own this position”. The group is yet to discuss the matter.

“There is no group that owns this position, neither at the beginning nor at the end of the term. The EP must decided on its own who it wants the president to be.”

But Keller also said the Greens wanted any EP president to be a “good president, who can represent the institution, who strengthens internal democracy” and commented that it was a “huge pity” that few women have been at the helm of the institution.

The Renew president Dacian Ciolos also said the liberals favoured more women to stand for the post: “We would be happy to see women candidates as well… We in principle abide by the 2019 agreement, but we expect the same from our partners. In 2019 we had agreed on support of the coordination of a conference for the Future of Europe proposed by Renew, but that did not come to fruition.”

Roberta Metsola is touted as one of two senior names, the other being the Dutch MEP Esther de Lange, who could be favoured for the EPP nomination for the next Euoprean Parliament president.

Manfred Weber is currently chairman of the EPP parliamentary group and is seeking re-election as such, but he also intends replacing Donald Tusk as the president of the EPP pan-European party, a second job in itself, in April 2022. Weber wants to act as both leader of his MEPs’ group, and Christian-democrat and centre-right parties across Europe, a move that gives him even more power over conservative MEPs and their national parties.

Weber might have also deduced he would not be elected as parliamentary president to replace the socialist David Sassoli, given that another German, Ursula von der Leyen, already leads the European Commission.

The EPP might instead prioritise senior female candidates for the job.

David Sassoli, an Italian social democrat, became Parliament president in 2019 as part of a broader agreement inside the EU bloc to split institutional roles between the major parties: Sassoli is expected to stand down when his term ends in January 2022, to be replaced by someone from the EPP; the EPP took the European Commission post for Ursula von der Leyen, while Renew Europe picked Charles Michel for the European Council.

But MEPs say Sassoli is quietly campaigning for a second term, despite the traditional power-sharing arrangement between socialists and conservatives, the leading forces in the assembly. Socialist MEPs think Sassoli is frustrated because much of his term was overshadowed by the COVID-19 crisis and the introduction of complex measures to protect MEPs and staff.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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