By Luca Bertuzzi
(EurActiv) — Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola was elected on Tuesday (18 January) to lead the EU institution for the second half of its five year mandate after securing an overwhelming majority in the first ballot.
Metsola was elected with 458 votes, followed by Green party candidate Sweden’s Alice Kuhnke with 101 votes and leftist Sira Rego from Spain with 57 votes.
At the last minute, conservative lawmaker Kosma Złotowski withdrew his candidacy following an agreement with other political groups on the roles of the assembly’s vice-Presidents and quaestors, which are also due to be elected during this week’s parliamentary session.
The election resulted from an agreement between the main three parties in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party, centrist Renew and centre-left Socialists & Democrats.
The agreement was reached at the beginning of the mandate in 2019 and renewed for the midterm, with an updated list of ten political priorities: values, climate, health, digital, economy, social affairs, security, migration, foreign affairs, and EU institutions.
Both Kuhnke and Rego received support beyond their political groups, with Parliament sources telling EURACTIV that Metsola’s views on abortion and reproductive rights had cost her the support of a significant minority of progressive lawmakers.
Nonetheless, the social-democrats upheld their end of the bargain; only a small minority departed from the party line in the secret ballot.
The Parliament’s fourth largest group, the Greens were left out of the agreement and accused the other parties of disregarding the smaller groups. “There were certain appetites that had to be satisfied, to the detriment of smaller political groups in European Parliament,” Greens’ co-president Philippe Lamberts said.
The European Parliament’s mandate lasts for five years, but its Presidency is divided into two with the social-democrats taking the presidency in the first half of the mandate, followed by the centre-right.
Metsola succeeds Italy’s David Sassoli, who passed away last week following complications due to pneumonia he developed in September. Sassoli’s health was made precarious by leukaemia, which he suffered since he took over the presidency, but that was only made public after his death.
In her inaugural speech, Metsola paid tribute to Sassoli and his legacy. The Maltese politician said that her role would be about “always standing up for Europe, for our common values of democracy, dignity, justice, solidarity, equality, the rule of law, and fundamental rights. For the politics of hope and the promise of the European Union.”
Metsola also pointed to the centrality of Parliament as the embodiment of the EU’s democratic values and said that the fight against authoritarianism, discrimination and climate change would be her main priorities.
Regarding foreign policy, she mentioned the tensions over Ukrainian sovereignty, the stalemate in Cyprus and the EU’s relationship with the Western Balkan countries.
She dedicated her final words to the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist assassinated in 2017 for her investigation on political corruption, and of Olivia Dubois, a French journalist kidnapped in Mali last April.
Metsola is the third woman to win the top’s EU Parliament position, after Simone Veil and Nicole Fontaine.
“It will not be another two decades until the next woman is standing here,” concluded Metsola.