Malta’s Roberta Metsola has been elected president of the European Parliament, after the madam speaker with Greek roots became the youngest MEP to hold the post after tough negotiations and a gentleman’s agreement.
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The 43-year old conservative whose one side of the family hails from Corfu, won a clear majority of votes from MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday, making her the first woman to lead the parliament since French politician Nicole Fontaine 20 years ago and only the third ever.
'We can put this experience to use in helping efforts to end the separation... under the auspices of the UN plan, we can never be truly whole while Cyprus remains split'
Metsola, a lawyer by profession, said in a promo video that she entered politics in Malta as an activist student at the university after she was handpicked by seniors who said there was a need for “young fresh blood.”
Reports said there was a lot of negotiating over recent days but things became clear on Monday afternoon after the socialists were promised a slate of prominent positions in return for backing the lawyer from Malta.
Socialist lawmakers were primarily concerned that their recent gains in the political arena would not be properly represented by Metsola’s conservative record on abortion, said to be out of step with the bloc’s political direction.
But many say Metsola’s stance against abortion rights is a political issue within Malta, which has an established derogation with the EU where any laws about abortion voted in Brussels cannot affect the island.
Other EU lawmakers rooted for Metsola, including fellow conservative parliamentarian Stelios Kympouropoulos from Greece, who described her as "bold enough to be the face of an extroverted and strong parliament."
Reference to Cyprus
During her acceptance speech, Metsola made references to divided Cyprus, saying Europe had a legacy of war but also of healing.
“We can put this experience to use in helping efforts to end the separation in the European Union’s last divided country, Cyprus, under the auspices of the UN plan. We can never be truly whole while Cyprus remains split,” she said.
After pausing for applause, Metsola addressed “those who seek to destroy Europe” and said “know that this House stands against you.”
“To those who try to blackmail Europe through hybrid attacks, this Parliament will not weaken solidarity among members,” Metsola said, telling her audience that “dictators will never divide us.”
Despite elections every five years, the EU has a complicated structure. But under a “gentleman’s agreement” within the European Parliament, it was expected that a conservative member would be elected, with MEPs honoring the pick from the Right to maintain balance of power with the EU.
Cypriot MEP Costas Mavrides told state radio on Tuesday morning that a previous unwritten agreement between parties, during the speakership of the late EP speaker David Sassoli, called for the next president to hail from Metsola’s European Peoples Party.
Mavrides said after consultations and number crunching amongst the three big political groups, the EPP, the socialist democrat coalition, and Renew Europe decided to support Metsola.
Despite tough stances on abortion and migration, the new speaker is considered a mainstream choice according to media and political pundits.
But while Metsola finds herself in the same camp with President Ursula von der Leyen, critics say that political affinity could be an obstacle to the young blood standing up to the commission.