Malta's Roberta Metsola of the centre right European People's Party has been elected as president of the European Parliament, becoming the youngest MEP to hold the post.
The 43-year old conservative 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.
Her victory is expected to tighten the EPP's grip over the parliament after the party retained its position as the largest political group in the 705-seat chamber following Europe-wide elections in 2019. Ms Metsola's appointment means Malta, the EU's smallest member state, will occupy one of the EU's top jobs.
Ms Metsola served as vice-president of the parliament since 2020 and will begin a 2½-year term after succeeding the socialist David Sassoli who had been due to step down this week in a power sharing deal with the EPP. Mr Sassoli died last week after being taken ill in December.
Covid-19 measures meant the secret ballot vote was conducted digitally with Ms Metsola, who was first elected as an MEP for Malta’s conservative Nationalist Party in 2013, winning 458 votes out of 690 in a first round vote against two other candidates.
“I want people to recapture a sense of belief and enthusiasm for our project,” Ms Metsola said as she acknowledged her victory in a speech on Tuesday.
Ms Metsola was the clear favourite to win against rivals from the Greens and the far-left, after a political deal between the parliament’s main three groups to support her candidacy.
She has been attacked by political opponents over her stance on abortion, after she voted against a European Parliament report declaring abortion a human right last June.
A majority Roman Catholic country, Malta is the only EU member state in which abortion is still illegal.
On Tuesday, the mother of four said the European Parliament would support “every woman in our union still fighting for her rights”.
"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," she added. "We must fight back against the anti-EU narrative that takes hold easily and quickly."
Ms Metsola faces the task of reviving the parliament's influence over Brussels affairs after two years in which the pandemic has reduced its institutional heft at the expense of the EU Council, which is made up of the bloc's 27 member states. Like member states, MEPs have the power to negotiate and approve almost all EU legislation. The parliament will now play a key role presiding over major pieces of legislation including sweeping reforms to the tech sector and a bumper package of green policies.
In an attempt to strengthen the parliament’s negotiating position, the EPP, centrists Renew, and centre-left Socialists & Democrats have agreed a common statement laying out their political priorities for the next 2½ years.
The Greens, the parliament's fourth largest grouping, did not join the alliance but some of its members still voted to back Ms Metsola. Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, said he supported the Maltese conservative because she has "promised to make parliament the heart of European political debate, and she is willing to work with us to be ambitious in the process". – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022