The election of the European Parliament president is a dirty dancing sequence in which the two largest political groups in the EU – the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D — unwilfully embrace.
Following the 2019 European elections, Italy’s David Sassoli was elected European Parliament’s president in the second round of a secret vote.
A day earlier, the Council had agreed a “top jobs” package with Ursula von der Leyen nominated as Commission president, outgoing Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as president of the European Council, IMF chief Christine Lagarde as the head of the European Central Bank, and Spanish diplomat Josep Borrell as the EU’s foreign affairs chief.
Sassoli’s election was seen as an excellent way to balance the EU top jobs (there was no EPP candidate for Parliament chief). He represents the S&D, just like Borrell, while von der Leyen and Lagarde come from the ranks of the EPP, and Michel from Renew (although his party MR in Belgium is more to the right than the centre-right CD&V and CdH).
Italy’s Sassoli, largely unknown before getting the top job, accomplished his half-term successfully. At least, he is no longer an anonymous MEP. The EPP has elected Roberta Metsola, an EU lawmaker from Malta, as its candidate for president of the European Parliament at the forthcoming midterm elections in January.
One would think there would be enthusiasm in tiny Malta because a Maltese citizen has a chance to land an EU top job for the first time (in comparison, Sassoli is the seventh Italian chief of Parliament).
But it was an S&D-affiliated MEP from Malta, Alfred Sant, who said it was unacceptable to let the top job go to the EPP, also given that the Eurogroup president Paschal Donohoe also hails from the EPP.
Sant further complained that “the socialist Frans Timmermans was supposed to be senior vice-president of the European Commission uniquely in this rank, but the centre-right’s Valdis Dombrovskis was given the same rank.”
Metsola’s possible new role also comes amid tensions due to the upcoming general elections in Malta. Having an opposition politician as the European Parliament president would not be favourable to the Maltese socialists.
The socialists also pointed out that the EPP has lost ground in several EU member state governments lately, which is a fact. This is a reality that should, in their view, be reflected in the distribution of the top jobs.
The S&D also considers that faith has been broken, since the understanding in 2019 was that Manfred Weber would be the next Parliament president. However, the German EPP group leader recently announced that he would not be running for president of the EP for the coming two and half years and instead wants to lead the EPP into the future.
Metsola, who a year ago was elected as the first Maltese to become vice-president of the European Parliament, has supporters, as well as detractors.
She is a top gun on migration issues, but star journalist Jean Quatremer repeats his reproaches that she opposes abortion, birth control, and even the Istanbul Convention against violence against women.
“Metsola would be the third woman president of the EP. The first was Simone Veil, who in 1974 legalised abortion in France. We can thus measure how Europe has evolved”, he tweeted.
In Bulgaria, Metsola is remembered for having supported then-prime minister Boyko Borissov during street protests against him that lasted several months in 2020.
Happily, the amendments she sponsored in an EP resolution were defeated. The fact that the EPP continues to support Borissov when his party is ostracised in the Bulgarian parliament only erodes this political family’s influence.
It will be up to the S&D to open the door to Metsola or not, and then it’s time for the two political elephants to embrace, as they did many times in the past. If they won’t, we might have to return to the issue.
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Look out for…
- EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Council with High Representative Josep Borrell and Kosovo PM Albin Kurti on Tuesday.
- Borrell delivers keynote speech at annual conference of European Defence Agency.
- Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski receives members of Animal Health Europe’s executive committee.
- International Day for Abolition of Slavery event in European Parliament.
Views are the author’s.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]