As a turbulent year draws to a close, so too does the current government’s term in office. IVAN MARTIN looks at some of the political choices that lie ahead in 2022.

Maltese MEP for president?

As the new year dawns, Roberta Metsola will find out if she will become the first Maltese national to be appointed to a major EU position when a new president of the European Parliament is elected in two weeks’ time.

If she secures the appointment, she will take over the presidency from David Sassoli of the Socialists and Democrats grouping in the parliament. It would be the most prestigious European political office ever held by a Maltese national.

In November, Metsola was selected to be the candidate for the position by her European People’s Party (EPP), comfortably beating two other candidates for the nomination, Austrian Othmar Karas and Dutch Esther de Lange.

Historically, the presidency rotates between the EPP and S&D groupings. While the S&D has said that it will not field a candidate, it has not said that its MEPs will back Metsola. 

S&D leader Iratxe García Perez said the group will be organising a hearing in the second week of January to grill Metsola, before deciding on its vote.

Sources in Brussels have said Metsola’s chances are quite strong. 

However, reporting on Metsola’s presidency prospects, Politico claimed that her position on abortion rights remains a “contentious” issue for many MEPs.

Election date

The general election is due in the first half of 2022.  

The full term of this legislature officially draws to a close in June, with the possibility of an extension for a few weeks beyond that to allow for an election to be held.

Prime Minister Robert AbelaPrime Minister Robert Abela

The date of the next election, which is Abela’s prerogative to set, will depend on a number of things, chiefly the COVID-19 situation and related health protocols.

The electoral commission and public health authorities have been busy drafting rules and guidelines for a pandemic election.  

However, aside from the virus, the timing of the election would also depend on the state of the economy and any potential political crisis that could erupt in the coming months.

New PN leader?

According to successive polls, Robert Abela’s Labour Party is heading towards a landslide electoral victory.

If the most recent poll numbers are anything to go by, the PN is set to lose by around 47,000 votes.

Should that be the case, it could trigger off another election within the party to confirm or replace leader Bernard Grech.

Bernard Grech, leader of the Nationalist Party.Bernard Grech, leader of the Nationalist Party.

The PN leader, in the hot seat since October 2020, has not outright committed himself on what would happen if he fails to make any inroads with the electorate, but he would surely face pressure to step aside if voters’ support for Labour increases.

Should that be the case, the PN would have elected its fourth leader since Lawrence Gonzi stepped aside in the aftermath of the 2013 election that saw Joseph Muscat’s Labour win by a big margin. 

Since then, the PN has been hamstrung by internal strife and an inability to resonate with large portions of the electorate. 

Smaller cabinet?

If Robert Abela is returned to power, his first major announcement would be the formation of his new cabinet.

The look of that cabinet would depend on a number of factors, from individual candidates’ performance at the polls to Abela’s own plans for the coming legislature.

His current cabinet is the largest Malta has ever had but sources have said it could end up being significantly smaller in the next term. 

Next ombudsman

The only public appointment to a local position that is expected to be filed in the coming year is that of the parliamentary ombudsman. 

Talks between the government and opposition over who should take over the position have been underway for several months, with a number of names up for discussion.  

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud’s term drew to a close earlier this year, and the two parties are at a stalemate over who should replace him. 

The successful candidate would need the backing of two-thirds of parliament and sources said no one has yet been nominated. 

The Office of the Ombudsman investigates the public’s complaints against state entities. 

Speaking during his Republic Day speech earlier this month, President George Vella urged the country’s political leaders to come to an agreement on who should take the position.

EU auditor

With no European commissioner posts up for grabs, the only major EU position that the government can nominate someone for is with the European Court of Auditors.

Former environment and finance minister Leo Brincat has been a member of the Luxembourg-based court of auditors since 2016, with his term drawing to a close in the second quarter of 2022. 

Whoever is nominated for the position – normally someone who enjoys the trust of the prime minister of the day – will first have to face a grilling by MEPs. 

UN Security Council 

On the international stage, Malta is a candidate for one of two non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. 

The rotating position is up for grabs in the so-called Western European and Other Regions group for the period 2023-2024.

A meeting of the United Nations Security Council at the 76th UN General Assembly on September 23, 2021 in New York. John Minchillo / POOL / AFPA meeting of the United Nations Security Council at the 76th UN General Assembly on September 23, 2021 in New York. John Minchillo / POOL / AFP

A vote for the seat will be held in June 2022. 

To date, only Malta and Switzerland have put forward bids for the two vacancies.

The security council is one of the six principal organs of the UN and is tasked with ensuring international peace and security, recommending the admission of new UN members to the general assembly, and approving any changes to the UN Charter. 

It is made up of five permanent members – the US, UK, France, Russia and China – and 10 rotating members elected from various regional groups for two-year terms. 

Each member has a vote but the permanent members have veto powers.

If elected, this would be Malta’s second stint on the council, having first held a seat between 1983 and 1984.

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