Securing 67% of all votes, Roberta Metsola became the first Maltese MEP to be elected as president of the EU parliament earlier today, a historic moment that cements Metsola’s meteoric rise to prominence in European politics.
It was welcomed in the country that has had its reputation dragged through the mud under the current administration’s links to money laundering and corruption, with citizens welcoming her election and saying it offered hope.
Metsola, who in her pre-vote speech presented herself as the candidate seeking to unite the continent by being a “consensus-builder” who can “bridge differences” between member states, obtained 458 votes out of a total of 690 that were cast, beating the other two candidates in the race on the first vote count.
“Our European way of open economies and open societies is a model that we can be proud of. It is a model that must be given the support necessary to withstand the pressure it comes under,” Metsola stated in her victory speech.
The other two candidates, Greens candidate Alice Kuhnke and the Left candidate Sira Rego, obtained 101 and 57 votes, respectively. Another candidate, Kosma Zlotowski, dropped out before the plenary session began.
Thanking her late predecessor David Sassoli, who passed away just days before Metsola was elected, Metsola’s speech began by honouring his legacy. She described him as “a president who always stood up for Europe’s common values of democracy, dignity, justice, solidarity, equality, rule of law and fundamental rights”.
“We must fight back against the anti-EU narrative that takes hold so easily and so quickly – disinformation and misinformation, further amplified during the pandemic, fuels easy cynicism and cheap solutions of nationalism, authoritarianism, protectionism and isolationism,” Metsola said.
“These are false illusions offering no solutions because Europe is about the opposite. It is about all of us standing up for one another, bringing our people closer together. It is about all of us defending the principles of our founding mothers and fathers that led us from the ashes of war and holocaust to peace, hope and prosperity,” she added.
Warning that the EU’s collective security remains a common challenge, Metsola spoke of how the Union must “remain principled” in order to remain credible and exert its influence globally.
“This is our true strength; for autocrats and despots, the EU is a threat, simply by existing,” Metsola stated.
In her speech, Metsola also referred to the EU’s pressing need to tackle climate change, promising to push the European green deal and the pledge to be the first carbon-neutral continent.
“Climate change is ravaging our continent and our world – it is no longer a problem for another generation to deal with. If you believe science, the question is no longer if, but when,” she said.
“This is not only a necessity and an urgency, but it is also an opportunity for Europe to take the lead, reinvent itself, ensure growth and sustainability and prosperity while reducing emissions,” Metsola added.
The European Parliament’s president also called for further championing of the rights of marginalised groups across the EU, referring in particular to the lobbies advocating for more rights for LGBTIQ communities, migrants and women.
“To those who attempt to undermine democracy, the rule of law, free speech and fundamental rights, to those who see women as targets and deny the rights to our LGBTIQ citizens, know that this House will never accept it,” the president stated.
“To all those who believe in the promise of Europe, this House matters, and when people look to us to defend our values, they will find an ally,” Metsola continued.
Referring also to the EU’s struggles to secure press freedom, Metsola also directly referred to the families of slain journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak, both of whom were killed over the stories they’d written about organised crime and corruption in their respective countries.
“Let me say to the families of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak, journalists, who were killed for doing their job: your fight for truth and justice is our fight,” Metsola said.