Christian Democrat Roberta Metsola of Malta delivers a speech at the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday, Jan 18, 2022.
The European Parliament’s new president, Roberta Metsola, on Tuesday vowed to promote the decisions taken by the bloc’s lawmakers even if they go against her own convictions.
Speaking to reporters shortly after being elected as the new president of the European parliament, Metsola said she was “honoured” to have secured the position and that she will do her “best to represent his house with dignity.”
She paid tribute to her predecessor, David Sassoli, who died earlier this month at the age of 65. “I have big shoes to fill and I will pay tribute to David and all those before him by always, always standing up for this house and for Europe,” she said.
Asked repeatedly about women’s sexual health and rights, the Maltese MEP, known for her anti-abortion views, stressed that the parliament has been “unambiguous” about its pro-abortion position and that the parliament’s position will be her position.
“I can confirm and commit to all of you that this is the position I will push forward as I have done as vice-president,” she said, highlighting that during the past year she spent as a vice-president, she presented resolutions from MEPs to the Polish Senate on the country’s near-total ban on adoption.
‘A Parliament that empowers’
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Metsola, a member of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), became the third woman to occupy the high-ranking position and beat three other candidates for the position: Spain’s Sira Rego (radical left), Poland’s Kosma Zlotowski (ECR, Eurosceptics) and Sweden’s Alice Bah Kuhnke (Greens).
Zlotowski dropped out of the race before voting started, paving the way for Metsola to gather support from all the centrist and conservative parties. The Maltese received 458 votes in favour, while Bah Kuhnke and Rego fell behind, with 101 and 57 votes, respectively.
Each candidate made their case to their fellow MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday to succeed Sassoli, who died on 11 January and whose term of office was already scheduled to end this week.
Philippe Lamberts, co-chair of the Greens/EFA Group, said that he is pleased that a woman is president once again, but disappointed at the selection process, which saw the three largest political groups make a backroom deal on Metsola’s election.
“We will have again a female President of the European Parliament. In 40 years, it is just the third one,” Lamberts told Euronews. “We cannot say that gender balance has been respected, so from that point of view, yes, it is positive. But again, the European Parliament could adopt better procedures for deciding who becomes president.”
Metsola has been an MEP since 2013 and a vice-president of the Parliament since 2020. The conservative lawmaker recently gained visibility by taking over from Sassoli, who was absent from the Chamber for several weeks due to illness.
But the mother of four has also drawn criticism from some of her colleagues for her anti-abortion views, which are widely held in Malta, the only EU country where abortion is completely llegal. Metsola, like all the other Maltese MEPs, consistently votes against or abstains in resolutions that recognise abortion as a human right.
Aware of the reservations she has aroused on this issue, she assured that if elected, her “duty will be to represent the position of the Parliament”, including on sexual and reproductive rights.
In an interview with Euronews, Manon Aubry, a French MEP from the Left Group in the European Parliament, said that the new president’s anti-abortion stance is problematic.
“We have regrets about her position in relation to abortion. This is a very difficult signal for hundreds of thousands of women, mainly in Poland, that are fighting to defend the right to have an abortion. I hope now that she will be able to represent the whole Parliament on this topic,” Aubry said on Tuesday.
Beyond this particular position, Metsola is a strong advocate for women’s rights and the LGBTQ+ community. As an MEP from a coastal state, she has been deeply involved in migration matters. She believes a holistic approach in which all 27 EU countries share the responsibility of migratory flows. She has also worked on legislative files related to media freedom – a personal subject for her following the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia –, rule of law, democratic backsliding, corruption, the European Green Deal and job creation.
“Ours must be a Parliament that empowers, that is diverse,” she said. “It will be not two decades until the next woman is standing here.”
She also told reporters she is in favour of standards and “mechanisms” that ensure that the bloc’s fundamental values and principles are respected y all member states and to prevent backsliding
“This is the parliament of rule of law,” she said. “I will stand against anybody who wants to destroy the European project”
Agreement and disagreement
Traditionally, mid-term elections to the European Parliament have almost always alternated between left and right.
Metsola, 43, was initially expected to benefit from the agreement between the three main political forces EPP, S&D (social democrats) and Renew Europe (centrists and liberals): the groups had agreed in 2019 to support the candidacy of Sassoli, a socialist, and for an EPP candidate to take over for the second half of the legislature.
But in view of its recent electoral successes, notably in Germany, the S&D group questioned its support, with group chairwoman Iratxe García explaining that she wanted to defend a candidate “in line with (her) priorities and (her) values”.
The three groups finally reached a new agreement on Monday, based on a political declaration mentioning 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 agreement also gives the S&D group five vice-presidential posts in the parliament, as well as some committee chairs.
On the far right, the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, which includes the French RN and the Italian League, supported Eurosceptic candidate Kosma Zlotowski of the European Conservatives and Reformists group.
Four rounds of voting
Metsola will be the third woman to preside over the 705-member assembly, after France’s Simone Veil (1979-1982) and Nicole Fontaine (1999-2002).
To be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes cast by secret ballot. If no absolute majority is obtained after three rounds of voting, a fourth round is organised with the two candidates who received the most votes in the previous round.
Voting took place at a distance, due to the health situation.
In addition to the president, no less than 14 vice-presidents will be elected during the session, for a two-and-a-half-year term. The positions of heads of parliamentary committees and European delegations will also be renewed, fueling fierce bargaining between the political groups.
According to the parliament’s rules of procedure, the president has a number of powers, including ruling on the admissibility of texts and amendments submitted to the assembly for a vote, in addition to leading debates. He or she also represents the institution at European summits of the 27 Member States.