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2 NEWS maltatoday | WEDNESDAY • 19 JANUARY 2022 2 NEWS From 'grazzi' to 'vive l'Europe': Metsola's giant step These articles are part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. These articles reflect only the authors' view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains. From the tragedies of murdered Europeans to the high stakes politics of war, Roberta Metsola's acceptance speech at the European Parliament had an unmistakably European outlook. Kurt Sansone reports ROBERTA Metsola emphasised diversity in her first speech as president of the European Par- liament and this was amply re- flected in her delivery. It was a speech made in four lan- guages that started in Maltese, her mother tongue, and ended with the French rallying call 'Vive l'Eu- rope'. The rest of the speech was in English but she also dropped in a couple of sentences in Italian when commemorating her prede- cessor David Sassoli and included two quotes in French. The short speech had all the makings of a Maltese woman with an unmistakably European out- look. Daphne and Paulina References to the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Pol- ish student Paulina Dembska were testament to Metsola's Maltese roots but she grounded them in a European context. Along with Caruana Galizia she highlighted the murder of another journalist, Jan Kuciak, telling their families the fight for "truth and justice" was also parliament's. The reference to Paulina, also included a mention of murdered teacher Ashling Murphy in Ire- land. "I stand on the shoulders of giants… the shoulders of the mil- lions of nameless women who en- dured so much… the shoulders of Ashling, Paulina and all the other women whose lives have already been stolen this year," Metsola said But another 'giant' Metsola high- lighted was Simone Veil, a French politician who was the first wom- an to occupy the role of EP presi- dent between 1979 and 1982. Abortion A holocaust survivor, Veil was also health minister in several French governments and is re- membered for advancing wom- en's rights in France, particularly the 1975 law legalising abortion, which is still known today as Loi Veil after her. Metsola's reference to Veil was to highlight how she "tore off the shackles" of the holocaust to "blaze a path through ceilings as the first woman to be EP presi- dent". But in focussing on Veil, Metso- la was also pandering to French MEPs, most of who were sceptical of the Maltese MEP's anti-abor- tion stand. The EP has consistently cham- pioned women's reproductive rights, including access to safe abortion services. Metsola avoided a direct men- tion of abortion in her speech but she did say that the EP "matters to every woman still fighting for her rights". In the press conference after- wards, when asked on her position on abortion, Metsola insisted her position was that of the EP. Beyond the overtures to the French, Metsola also traversed the various issues of concern across the European continent. Russian threat "The world around us is less friendly than it was a generation ago," Metsola told MEPs, positing collective security as a common challenge. "The unacceptable at- tacks on Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the dangerous situation in Belarus are prime examples of this." It was her way of allaying con- cerns of the EU's eastern-most countries that share a border with Russia and have been warning that Russian hostility could desta- bilise the region. Metsola also reached out to Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which remains a divided island af- ter the Turkish invasion of 1974. "We can never be truly whole while Cyprus remains split," she told MEPs to applause. Metsola pushed for greater EU efforts to end the separation in Cyprus "un- der the auspices of the UN plan". Cyprus came the closest to unifi- cation just before the island joined the EU in 2004 but a UN-brokered plan, known as the Annan Plan, was rejected by Greek-Cypriots in a referendum. Metsola made it clear through- out her speech that the EP will stand for a united Europe and its common values of "democracy, dignity, justice, solidarity, equal- ity, rule of law and fundamental rights". "I want people to recapture a sense of belief and enthusiasm for our project. A belief to make our shared space safer, fairer, more just and more equal… We must fight back against the anti-EU nar- rative that takes hold so easily and so quickly," she said. Cheap solutions Rallying against the "cheap solu- tions" of nationalism, author- itarianism, protectionism and isolationism, Metsola called for a Europe that stands up for one an- other. But in voicing these high ideals, Metsola called on fellow MEPs to "burst through the Strasbourg and Brussels bubble" and deliver Europe to people across the con- tinent. The reference was an attempt to reach out to ordinary European citizens, who see the parliament and other EU institutions as cut off from their everyday reality. Whether her call will fall on deaf ears has to be seen but she did list a number of issues MEPs should work on. She mentioned the urgency of climate change to which the Eu- ropean Green deal is "the right answer". "And we must continue to show that you cannot decouple the en- vironment and the economy," she said, adding businesses need less bureaucracy and more chances to take the risks that will see Europe regain its competitive edge. She emphasised the importance of the Recovery and Resilience Fund to help the EU relaunch af- ter the pandemic. Europe is back In a final rallying call, Metsola boldly declared that "Europe is back… Europe is the future", be- fore rounding up in French: "Vive l'Europe!" French President Emmanuel Macron would have loved that final call, which matches his own vision for a European response to the health, security and climate challenges the EU faces. Whether Metsola had Macron in mind may be a moot point but it is evident that she tried to bridge with the French liberals. Metsola now starts her term as EP president that will end in June 2024 when European elections are held across the continent. It has to be seen how Metsola, a conservative MEP from tiny Malta, will perform at the high- est echelons of European power. Metsola has built a reputation of being a bridge-builder but irrespective of how she will be judged, the Nationalist MEP has taken a giant step in her political career. Roberta Metsola addressing fellow MEPs after being elected President

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