European Parliament president Roberta Metsola has appointed Spaniard Leticia Zuleta de Reales Ansaldo as the new head of cabinet, the first female to ever occupy the position in living memory.
She will replace Alessandro Chiocchetti, who will take over the role of secretary-general of the European Parliament. She had previously been his deputy.
The appointment was announced by Metsola's chief spokesperson in a tweet.
The news came shortly after Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer retweeted a story in the Italian media that had said that Metsola’s long-time assistant and brother-in-law will be taking up the post.
Engerer questioned whether the appointment was either meritocratic or an act of good governance.
According to sources, Matthew Tabone, who has been Metsola’s right-hand man for the past 10 years, temporarily carried out administrative duties until de Reales Ansaldo officially accepted the new post.
Tabone, who currently heads Metsola's private office, was never appointed to the role, sources said.
Metsola’s office told Italian newspaper Il Foglio that Tabone’s assignment was “in line with both the spirit and the letter of the law” and that as a person of trust appointment, “it is up to the president to nominate someone in whom she has trust”.
While EP rules from 2009 ban MEPs from appointing direct relations, Tabone is not considered a first-degree relative. Additionally, according to sources, since Zuleta de Reales Ansaldo had not yet accepted the position, Metsola temporarily assigned Tabone her administrative duties, which include approving leave and signing off on the purchase of train tickets.
The sources said this was done because there can legally be no vacuum in the post and the position would have become vacant on January 1.
Independent politician Arnold Cassola, who in the past held the position of secretary-general of the European Greens in the EP, pounced on the unverified appointment, writing to EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly to investigate the appointment.
“If it is still legally possible for parliamentarians to employ close relatives as their staff, the Ombudsman should point out that this is not only unethical but should also recommend that this practice is declared illegal,” he wrote in a statement.
But Cassola immediately acknowledged the development and in a statement said: "This is the right thing to do: setting the right example."