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MALTATODAY 19 September 2021

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 19 SEPTEMBER 2021 EWROPEJ MATTHEW VELLA IN the space of just two weeks, the Maltese MEP Roberta Met- sola was catapulted on a trajec- tory to clinch one of the most powerful posts in the European Union. With an election for the Euro- pean Parliament president slat- ed to happen in January 2022 – for half of the five-year legis- lature that started in 2019 – it is expected, though not taken for granted, that an MEP from the European People's Party be elected to the post currently held by the Italian social-de- mocract Roberto Sassoli. That role could well be en- trusted to Metsola if she emerg- es as a strong nominee by the EPP group, and finds consen- sus among liberals, greens and the socialists themselves. Only this week she was cata- pulted into a rehearsal for the role itself, when illness struck Sassoli from the key date of the European Parliament calendar: the State of the EU address by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Ley- en. Vice-president Roberta Metsola stepped in to preside over the important sitting, all eyes on one of the papabili for the role. The week before, the Süd- deutsche Zeitung snapped her standing right behind German chancellor Angela Merkel as the EPP group applauded the outgong for 16 years at the helm as de facto leader of Eu- rope. In her tribute to Merkel as a woman who "smashed ceilings to blaze a trail for the world to follow", Metsola's message was as telling as the photo's chorus of men centred around the two women: more ceilings can be yet broken. To have a Maltese become the first woman president of the European Parliament since 1999, in a female one-two on the Union's podium of power with Von der Leyen, would be momentous in itself. For Malta, the opportunity of so much soft power captured by having a Maltese woman as head of the EP, brings yet again a chance of showcasing it repu- tation as an honest broker – a reputation held in various in- ternational fora, as recently as its 2017 presidency of the Eu- ropean Council. If elected, it will also place Metsola first in line to speak to visiting heads of state at the European Parliament, a kind of audience few Maltese poli- ticians could dream of having. Certainly enough, the stars have aligned themselves for Metsola's possible next adven- ture in European politics. The leaders of the EU agreed at the beginning of the legis- lature that the presidency of the EC could go to the cen- tre-right, the Counc to the Lib- erals (Charles Michel), and the EP to the social-democrats for the first half of the term. But the European People's Party president of its Europe- an parliamentary group, the German MEP Manfred Weber, has now decided he would for- go a bid for the role, realising that MEPs might squirm at the notion of so much institution- al power being held in German hands: him and Von der Ley- en. Weber decided he will run again for head of the MEPs' group, but also the EPP um- brella group of national parties, when Donald Tusk steps down in April 2022. Secondly, Weber's number two, the Spanish vice-president Esteban Gonzalez Pons this week also confirmed he will not be a candidate for the Jan- uary 2022 election for the EP presidency, instead calling for a "consensus" candidate that is supported by "pro-European" forces across all the parliament. This has opened up the route for EP vice-president Roberta Metsola or the Dutch MEP Es- ther de Lange as the two candi- dates who might be selected for the nomination. Inside the European Parlia- ment, with so much talk about the urgent need to have more women in decision-making positions, the choice for a fe- male candidate is likely to be shared across many of the MEP groups. Metsola is also a known quantity: vice-president of the EP, she worked on one of the toughest migration dossiers that further sealed her rep- utation as a knowledgeable MEP who can work with other groups, and also sitting square- ly in the political centre. Not so her Dutch colleague, De Lange, considered more of a hawkish candidate, and hail- ing from one of the 'frugal' EU member states which demand more fiscal discipline from the EU's southern members: would the socialists consent to this kind of candidate in the post-pandemic climate? Metsola might represent a safe bet, as a Maltese from a country whose internation- al role also does not harbour Metsola could be woman to break another glass ceiling in Brussels Roberta Metsola is on the cusp of clinching one of the EU's three institutional leadership posts if the EPP agrees on her nomination, making her the first woman to hold the post of EP president since 1999 This week Metsola (top) was catapulted into a rehearsal for the role of EP president after David Sassoli was taken ill. The week before, the Süddeutsche Zeitung (left) snapped her standing right behind German chancellor Angela Merkel as the EPP group applauded the outgong for 16 years at the helm as de facto leader of Europe

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