The EU Parliament has embraced its youngest ever president. As predicted by most EU watchers, it was Christian Democrat Roberta Metsola who finally carried the vote on Tuesday. It makes her the third woman and first Maltan to do so. Entrusted with adopting and amending legislative proposals and making budgetary decisions, the European Parliament has had only two female presidents. Simone Veil and Nicole Fontaine, both French, have led the assembly since direct election was implemented in 1979.
Securing the position by a comfortable margin (458 out of 616 validly cast votes), Metsola, of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), outclassed her two other female competitors. The EPP forms the largest contingent within the EU body. Announcing the result was Second Vice President Pedro Silva Pereira, who congratulated Metsola while wishing her a happy birthday. She had turned 43 that very day, which makes her as old as the assembly she now heads.
Accepting the position, Metsola said she wanted people to “recapture a sense of belief and enthusiasm for our [European] project.” Speaking to reporters shortly afterwards, Metsola said she had “big shoes to fill” and would “pay tribute to David and all those before him by always, always standing up for this house and for Europe.”
The “David” she refers to is her predecessor, David Sassoli. Well-liked and respected, his recent passing prompted his native Italy to grant him a state funeral. The official unexpectedly died due to an abnormal functioning of the immune system on January 11th. Earlier in September, he had suffered a severe pneumonia infection, for which he needed hospital care. The treatment forced him to work remotely. The EU Parliament had been largely dormant ever since. As chance would have it, an election to replace him had already been scheduled, one that had nothing to do with his ailing health.
For someone who has just landed one of the most prized jobs in the EU apparat, Metsola has an unusual profile. Her self-professed feminism and staunch defense of civil rights, would place her squarely in the progressive camp, and endear her to many inhabiting the EU’s institutions. Yet, she labels herself a conservative, with an anti-abortion stance to boot. A commitment which makes this mother of four more palatable to those who lean right, yet puts her in stark contrast with the EU Parliament’s first president—abortion rights spearheader Simone Veil.
Not surprisingly, the election has stirred the pot of web-opinion. Some, such as EPP Secretary-General Simon Busuttil, have highlighted Metsola’s biological sex and relative youth as valuable assets to bring to bear on the task:
Others, like Irish independent MEP Luke Flanagan, take issue with Metsola’s adoption of progressive phraseology and causes, while opposing abortion (the right to which is axiomatic to many, if not most, feminists):
The latter camp can rest easy, however. Hearings, organized by the Socialists and Democrats bloc, the second-largest within Parliament, were held on the topic. In need of its votes, Metsola there guaranteed that as president, she would fulfill her presidential duties and represent Parliament’s general consensus only. And so, the Maltan’s anti-abortion stance remains safely confined to the realm of private opinion.