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Centre-right Maltese MEP becomes EU's youngest parliament president

The vote comes a week after the sudden death of outgoing centre-left president David Sassoli.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

MALTESE POLITICIAN ROBERTA Metsola was elected head of the European Parliament today, the youngest person ever to clinch the job, but fanning controversy for her opposition to abortion.

Roberta Metsola received 458 votes, Alice Bah Kuhnke of the Greens received 101, and Sira Rego of The Left received 57 votes.

The appointment of the centre-right 43-year-old from the EU’s smallest nation comes a week after the sudden death of outgoing centre-left parliament president David Sassoli, who was already due to step down this month as part of the power-sharing pact.

In her acceptance speech, Metsola paid tribute to Ashling Murphy and Paulina Dembska – a Polish woman killed in Malta earlier this month.

I know I stand on the shoulders of giants… The shoulders of Ashling and Paulina, and all the other women whose lives have already been stolen this year.

Metsola – a member of the largest bloc, the European People’s Party – won a sweeping majority with 458 votes in a secret ballot after a deal between the leading political groupings. She becomes the third woman to head the chamber.

MEPs applauded and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ as Metsola scooped the top job on the day she turned 43 – becoming the youngest ever head of the legislature.

“In the next years, people across Europe will look to our institution for leadership and direction, while others will continue to test the limits of our democratic values and European principles,” Metsola said in her acceptance speech.

“We must fight back against the anti-EU narrative that takes hold so easily and so quickly.”

‘Uncomfortable’

The mother-of-four styles herself as a pro-LGBTQ progressive and champion of women’s rights. But her tough stance over abortion has drawn criticism from opponents.

Abortion is illegal in largely Catholic Malta and Metsola in June voted against a report urging all member states to offer safe access to terminations.

That stance saw the Left and Green groups in parliament field two staunchly pro-choice feminists as their challengers.

French Europe minister Clement Beaune told France Info that he “felt uncomfortable by the symbol” of Metsola’s election.

But a backroom deal between the major political forces meant that her ascension from vice president to head the parliament until mid-2024 was in the bag.

“I know that having the first female president of this house since 1999 matters both inside and outside these rooms,” Metsola told lawmakers after the vote.

“But it must go further. Our institution’s commitment to having more diversity, gender equality, guaranteeing women’s rights, all our rights, must be reaffirmed.”

She has previously insisted that she would put personal conviction aside to represent the majority position of lawmakers on the issue.

The presidency of the European Parliament is one of the top jobs in the EU’s hierarchy, but the chamber is often accused by its critics of lacking real power.

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EU executive chief Ursula von der Leyen offered her “warmest congrats” to Metsola.

“As the third woman to head this noble house, your hard work and determination are an inspiration to us all,” the European Commission chief wrote on Twitter.

“We’ll work closely together for the EU’s recovery and a green, digital and bright European future.”

Metsola insisted the fight against climate change would remain a priority for the European Parliament and urged lawmakers to embrace reforms to make the legislature more relevant.

She follows in the footsteps of French Auschwitz survivor Simone Veil (1979-1982) and politician Nicole Fontaine (1999-2002) as the only women to run the parliament.

“It will not be another two decades until the next woman is standing here,” Metsola said.

© AFP 2022

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