17th Apr 2024

Metsola becomes youngest EU Parliament president

  • Roberta Metsola is only the third female president of the EU parliament since 1979 (Photo: European Parliament)
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Maltese centre-right MEP Roberta Metsola on Tuesday (18 January) was elected president of the European Parliament, becoming, at 43, the youngest-ever head the 705-seat assembly.

MEPs voted outright for Metsola in the first round of balloting, with a clear winning tally of 458 out of the valid 616 ballots cast.

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Matsola was the candidate of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) which now heads two of the largest EU institutions, the EU Commission with Ursula von der Leyen, and now also the parliament.

Metsola's win was in effect secured on Monday, after a deal was struck by the largest political parties, the EPP, the Socialist & Democrats (S&D) and the liberal Renew Europe.

Metsola has been the acting president of the assembly since the death of her predecessor, the S&D's David Sassoli, last Tuesday.

Sassoli was due to leave office at the end of January anyway - after two-and-a-half years in post - as part of the power-sharing deal struck by EU leaders in 2019, and a centre-right candidate was supposed to take over.

However, after recent electoral successes, notably in Germany, the S&D group was reluctant to go ahead with the 2019 deal. But in the end, the three groups finally reached a new agreement on Monday.

They issued a political declaration laying out several priorities, including the fight against violence against women and for gender equality, the reform of European taxation and the implementation of a directive on the minimum wage.

The deal also commits to fundamental rights (including the rights of minorities and the LGBTIQ community), pledges to defend the rule of law, push for the climate package in parliament, and a humane and effective migration policy. The centre-right EPP also committed to supporting transnational lists in the next EU election.

The agreement also gives the socialist group five vice-presidential posts in the parliament, as well as some committee chairs. However, the parliament's powerful secretary-general, EPP-affiliated Klaus Welle will remain in his position.

Metsola, a member of the centre-right EPP group from Malta, was among four candidates for the position, alongside Spain's Sira Rego (radical left), and Sweden's Alice Bah Kuhnke (Greens). Poland's Kosma Zlotowski (the conservative European Conservatives and Reformists) withdrew his candidacy.

Youngest leader

Born in 1979, Metsola is the youngest person in the history of the legislature to hold the post, and the first woman in 20 years. She was, in fact, voted in on her birthday.

The parliament has only had two female presidents since it became a directly elected assembly: Simone Veil and Nicole Fontaine, both French.

Metsola is a mother of four, and she has been a member of the parliament since 2013. She has been the vice-president of the parliament since 2020.

She is the member of the Nationalist Party in Malta, and campaigned as a student for Malta to become an EU member.

As the smallest EU member state, Malta joined in 2004. The island nation is the last EU country where abortion is still completely illegal.

Metsola has been criticised for her strong opposition to abortion, but she has pledged to represent and commit to the majority of the parliament's position on reproductive rights, including the need for these rights to be better protected.

"Women's rights cannot be an afterthought, the fight for real equality must go beyond image," she told MEPs.

Metsola has been vocal on defending the rule of law, even speaking up against Hungary's government on occasion whilst the governing Fidesz was a member of her EPP group, before it left in 2021.

Speaking to EUobserver last December, she also spoke out in support of defending reporters, and against lawsuits designed to stifle journalism.

"We must be clear to make a difference between legitimate lawsuits from people trying to protect their reputation and those that aim to silence their targets," Metsola told EUobserver, adding that these lawsuits, called SLAPPs, need to be stopped.

Metsola is also a strong supporter of European integration. "I will stand against anybody who wants to destroy the European project," she said in her press conference after the vote, pledging to hold the political centre.

However, Metsola will have the daunting task of carving out more political weight for the parliament among the EU institutions as the pandemic has put in-person plenaries on hold, and made lively debates impossible.

"In the next years, people across Europe will look to our institution for leadership and direction, while others will continue to test the limits of our democratic values and European principles," she told the plenary.

She said the president must be to help members to close the gap between citizens and European decision-making. Metsola said the parliament needs an accessible president, and the parliament has to be open, safe and diverse.

"I know what it means to be the underdog, I know what it means to be pigeonholed. But I also know how important this is for people beyond this chamber, I know what this means for every girl watching today, for everyone who ever dared to dream," she told MEPs.

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