Roberta Metsola on cusp of EP presidency as elections get underway

Malta’s Roberta Metsola is the frontrunner in the 18 January election for European Parliament president, with no candidate from the S&D group and other political blocs putting forward feminist alternatives to contrast ‘anti-choice’ candidate

Nationalist MEP and vice-president Roberta Metsola
Nationalist MEP and vice-president Roberta Metsola

As the election for a new president in the European Parliament gets underway, Roberta Metsola is increasingly being touted as the MEP to succeed the late David Sassoli for the House presidency.

Roberta Metsola faces competition from three other candidates – the Greens candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke, the Left’s Sira Rego, and ECR’s Kosma Zlotowski.

While a four-horse race might conjure expectations of a hotly-contested battle for the presidency, the election itself could turn out to be a very quick affair.

The first point of departure is the fact that the second-largest group in the EP, the socialist S&D, does not have a candidate. It is likely to respect the 2019 power-sharing deal between socialists, liberals Renew, and the centre-right EPP, that elected Italian socialist David Sassoli to the presidency.

 

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Without a candidate, the S&D might not be expected to upset what is essentially a power-sharing coalition between the three main groups.

With liberals Renew likely to follow the EPP’s lead – former Belgian PM Charles Michel, a Renew member, is the head of the European Council as part of the power-sharing pact – this could mean that Metsola could be elected by a simple majority in the first or second ballot.

Not all MEPs could follow this lead. French MEPs have been irked by the prospect of an anti-choice female president of the EP – this was a point raised by French MEP Bernard Guetta in a Renew meeting with Metsola. Then again, half the French delegation from Emanuel Macron’s En Marche party, also within Renew, are likely to follow the French President’s wishes to respect the 2019 deal.

Metsola first made history when she was elected First Vice-President of the European Parliament in November 2020, being the first Maltese person to hold the position.

The institutional role, which is not a partisan one, holds several high-level responsibilities related to the external representation of the European Parliament, the negotiation of legislation with the European Commission and the European Council.

It meant that she would support and replace the President of the European Parliament in first instance should he be absent or unavailable to discharge his duties, including chairing plenary sittings or representing Parliament at specific ceremonies.

Less than a year later, she was catapulted on a trajectory to clinch the EP presidency. When illness struck David Sassoli from appearing for the State of the EU address, Metsola stepped in to preside over the important sitting.

After this, EPP president and German MEP Manfred Weber decided that he would forego a bid for the EP presidency, realising that MEPs might squirm at the notion of so much institutional power being held in German hands – Weber as head

of the EP, and Ursula von der Leyen as head of the European Commission.

Still, Metsola’s anti-abortion voting record has been the biggest point of contention among MEPs. It was Bernard Guetta (brother to the world-famous DJ...) who was said to have “set the scene” during an internal meeting with centrist MEPs from the Renew Group, by announcing that he would not vote for Metsola, which he said could be interpreted as a regression of women’s rights.

The matter even forced a comment from French president Emanuel Macron himself, who was questioned on the issue by journalists during a presentation of his electoral programme.

Metsola has told MaltaToday that if elected as President of the European Parliament, she would respect the majority opinions of the House – whether that be a pro-choice or pro-life opinion. “On sexual and reproductive health and rights, the position of the European Parliament is clear. As President of the Parliament my duty is to represent the view of the Parliament and if I am elected, I will do my duty as I have always done.”

But Maltese MEPs do have a track record of abstaining or voting against parliamentary reports that even hint at abortion – from resolutions on the UN’s millennium development goals, to reports dealing with gender equality and access to abortion services.

In fact, the European Left is proposing a feminist candidate which they insist marks a break from ‘system candidates’, saying Spanish MEP Sira Rego could unite both the centre-left and eco-socialist groups in the EP. GUE Co-president Manon Aubry added that Rego was a feminist candidate “marking a clear break from the system candidates 40 years on from the presidency of Simone Veil... now we have a candidate who is in favour of abortion.”

Otherwise, Metsola is reported to have convinced MEPs on the defence of rule of law, implementing the European Green Deal, and fundamental rights – both inside Renew and the S&D.

Metsola is proposing the creation of a European network of young women leaders, which would be responsible to put for

ward ideas on how to help women reach leadership positions in their countries. Her experience and ability to shape transparent compromises, as was the case for the Parliament’s report on SLAPP proceedings against journalists, is an ace in her hand.

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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