Nafter twenty years, a woman could again take the helm of the European Parliament in January. On Wednesday evening, the Christian-Democratic EPP Group nominated Roberta Metsola from Malta for the post. At the same time, she would be the first representative from the smallest EU member state to achieve a top European office – and at 39 years of age, the youngest female president in the history of Parliament. EPP parliamentary group leader Manfred Weber, who did not want to run for office himself, spoke of a “generation change” and a “very convincing candidate” when he announced the result.
Surprisingly for many, Metsola prevailed against two distinguished and experienced MPs in the first ballot: Esther de Lange from the Netherlands, one of the deputy group chairmen, and Othmar Karas from Austria, one of the parliamentary deputy chairmen. Both belong to the liberal wing of the EPP Group, Karas had always insisted on a tough course in the struggle to deal with the Hungarian Fidesz, while Weber played for time. Karas got only 18 votes, de Lange 44, Metsola against 112.
Special challenge for social democrats
As spokeswoman for her group in the Committee on Civil Rights, Justice and Home Affairs, Roberta Metsola has made a name for herself above all with such issues. The rule of law played an important role here, and Metsola ensured that her own home country, whose social democratic government was deeply involved in corruption, was also viewed critically. This revealed the characteristic that distinguishes her most clearly from the other two candidates: She is sharp-tongued and aggressive, a “leg bite”, as someone in the parliamentary group calls her. And very ambitious. Those in the know say her real goal is to change power in Malta – with her at the helm.
For the Social Democrats, Metsola’s candidacy is a particular challenge. They actually agreed in writing in 2019 that the chairmanship would be split and that they would support an EPP candidate in the second half of the current legislative period; that wasn’t tied to names. But the incumbent David Sassoli does not want to give way, as the Italian made clear again this week in the group meeting. But he is not particularly valued in his own ranks, and the Spanish parliamentary group leader Iratxe Garcia has already indicated internally that it is difficult to vote against a woman.
While the Social Democrats are still sorting themselves out, Weber is already digging into the Liberals. He has offered them a kind of coalition agreement for the second half of the legislative period and says he has “already received a lot of positive signals”. Overall, Metsola can actually have high hopes that it will get enough votes in the election in mid-January. She herself said that she wanted to forge a “pro-European centrist majority”.
Is Metsola reaching for the EPP top candidate?
As interesting as this process is how Metsola got her nomination in the first place. “In our group it depends on the personality, the strength of the individual,” said Weber. That was only half the story, however. The other half: Without his support and that of the German MPs, the well-respected Metsola would not have had a chance. When the group leader announced at the beginning of September that he wanted to keep his post and also become EPP party leader, her name was making the rounds in Union circles.
This was interpreted by others in the parliamentary group as an act of self-assertion by the German group, especially after the Bundestag election that was lost. Metsola was chosen because she was completely dependent on the Germans and guaranteed them direct influence over the parliamentary chairmanship, it said. The fact is that Malta only has two of the 178 MEPs and Weber has put together a complete personnel package that speaks in favor. The husband of his head of cabinet is planned as Metsola’s future head of cabinet. However, Metsola is a self-confident woman who, as Vice President, leads parliamentary sessions confidently and is not so easily influenced.
Some speculate about whether she could even aim for the EPP’s top candidacy in the next European elections. However, another rule applies: if Ursula von der Leyen wants a second term, she is as good as set. The Germans in particular will not stab her in the back. Even the Berlin traffic lights are coming towards her. It is true that the coalition agreement states that the Greens may nominate the next German commissioner, but with one important caveat: “if the commission president is not from Germany”.
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