Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola could be in the running to become a candidate for president of the European Parliament, after one of the favourites announced he will not contest.

Metsola, of the European People's Party, has been the parliament's first vice-president since November.

She is understood to be gauging her support for the high-profile position that could become vacant in January. 

She did not rule out entering the race when approached by Times of Malta.

Instead she said she was "speaking to colleagues" about what they want from a future president and discussing "the vision for Europe over the next years".

EP presidents are elected for two-and-a-half years of the parliament’s five-year term. The presidency is normally divided between the two major political parties.

The top position should become vacant in January. Under the latest political deal made in 2019, incumbent David Sassoli, from the Socialists and Democrats, would be replaced by a member of the centre-right EPP.

Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP was the favourite to take on the position but he announced on Wednesday that he will not run, leaving the field open.

He aims instead to be re-elected chairman of the EPP group and to succeed Donald Tusk as president of the party.

“My work in the EPP Group is not finished yet. Our mission to revive Christian democracy and centre-right parties in Europe is not over. Consequently, I will not run for President of the European Parliament,” he announced on Twitter.

Before the news broke, one EPP official told Politico that if Weber did not put his name forward, the EPP group would prioritise senior female candidates in the group, including Roberta Metsola, and Dutch MEP Esther de Lange.

Metsola told Times of Malta that she understood there was a lot of "reasonable speculation as to who the EPP Group could now nominate" for the position.

"I would not like to add to that except to say that I am speaking to colleagues within the Group to listen to what they want from the person leading this Institution and to discuss the vision for Europe over the next years," she said.

"This is an internal process that must be given the time and space needed. In my view whoever it is who comes next must have the bigger picture in mind and ensure that they are able to communicate a coherent, strong, European vision to people in every Member State and help give them a reason to believe in Europe again."

Metsola's supporters says she is seen as a bridge-building figure in the EP and so could garner cross-party support.

She has worked closely with other groups including the Socialists and Democrats and the Greens on areas such as migration law, SLAPP lawsuits and as chair of the FRONTEX group. As vice president, she also has institutional experience, her supporters argue.

In a statement, the EPP said it had launched the internal procedure to select a candidate and planned to complete the process by November. 

It urged other political groups to accept the agreement that the president of the EP in the second half of the term should come from the ranks of the EPP.

Politico also reported that Sassoli may attempt to diverge from the agreement and campaign for a second term. 

The next president of the European Parliament faces a series of challenges including legislation that would help a post-pandemic EU, plans to tackle the climate crisis and regulating tech and social media giants. 

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