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An Anti-Abortion Woman to Become President of the European Parliament? by Hélène de Lauzun

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An Anti-Abortion Woman to Become President of the European Parliament?

David Sassoli’s term as president of the European Parliament ends in January 2022. To succeed him, the EPP (European People’s Party) chose its candidate at the end of November. Minister of European Parliament Roberta Metsola was chosen by 112 votes by her group, far ahead of the 44 votes for her Dutch rival, Ester de Lange, and the 18 votes for the Austrian MEP Othmar Karas. This internal EPP vote puts her in the position of favourite for the post of president of the parliament, as the EPP is the largest parliamentary group in this assembly.

However, the game is not over yet, as the current President Sassoli could run for a second term, contrary to what he had promised when he was first elected to the post. Every two and a half years, the distribution of the main European functions—vice-president, committee chairmen, quaestors, and president of parliament—gives rise to bitter negotiations between the different political formations. In order to preserve a balance of political forces, the Italian Sassoli, who belongs to the Socialists and Democrats group, had agreed in 2019 to commit himself for only one term and then to cede the post to the Conservatives. But he recently explained that despite his promise he did not intend to give up his seat to a conservative member. 

EPP group chairman Manfred Weber warmly supports the candidacy of Roberta Metsola, whom he describes as a consensus candidate: “Our candidate really represents the majority opinion—I would call it the Ursula von der Leyen majority,” he explained during a press conference the day Metsola was chosen.

Apparently the Maltese Roberta Metsola is a perfect product of the Brussels system. Initially working as a lawyer, she worked for the Maltese delegation from 2004 to 2012 and then was an advisor to Catherine Ashton, the former European Union representative for foreign affairs.

But she is also known to be a mother of four and to defend conservative positions on the issue of abortion. As a result, she is already the subject of much criticism. Some refuse to see her as the ideal candidate or the good student of the European institutions because she has voted against all the resolutions aimed at defending the right to abortion or contraception. In September 2021, she was reproached for abstaining on a text to criminalize violence against women. However, the text was much broader, using women as a pretext for discrimination against women, homosexual, and transgender people. In this, she is faithful to the majority opinion of her country, Malta, which today has one of the most protective legislations for mothers and children in Europe, since abortion is completely prohibited.

Roberta Metsola has stated that she does not want to venture into this sensitive area during her term in the European Parliament. Moreover, abortion is not part of the Union’s competences. But it is clear that her personal positions are in complete contradiction with the anthropology that is currently defended by Brussels and that the European institutions are trying to impose on all member states, particularly in Poland.

As France prepares to take over the presidency of the European Union, President Emmanuel Macron has expressed concern about Metsola’s appointment. On December 9th, he explained the concern that European deputies should have for the “coherence” of their struggles in the choice of their assembly president: “it is up to European parliamentarians to choose their president. I hope that they will do so with the spirit of coherence and in fidelity with the fights which are theirs”.

Several far-left MEPs have voiced their strong disapproval of Roberta Metsola, such as Manon Aubry of the France insoumise party, who called her potential election a “disastrous signal” sent to women. Manon Aubry also criticized the tacit job-sharing agreement between the EPP and the Socialists and Democrats – an undemocratic view of politics that contributes to citizens’ disaffection with the European Union, she said.

Despite this opposition, the abortion issue is not expected to be a serious obstacle to the election of Roberta Metsola, who has also made many pledges to progressivism and is very popular in the Parliament. She is part of the progressive wing of the EPP and has voted in favour of both LGBT rights and the reception of migrants.

The vote is scheduled to take place on January 18th, 2022. 

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).

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