The race to the European Parliament’s presidency is not over, but pending any last-minute surprises, Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola is likely to assume the top role after Tuesday’s election.
Over the past weeks, the 42-year-old lawyer nominated to the post by the European People’s Party has been meeting with MEPs from all political groups, hoping to convince them of her vision. And sources said the campaign appears to be yielding support.
The election is being held a week after the surprise death of Italian MEP David Sassoli, who had served as president of the European Parliament during the first half of the current five-year term.
“She has been received extremely well by many MEPs,” a source close to her campaign said.
“She resonated with the Socialists, the Liberals and the Conservatives, so she has left a good impression on the majority of centre-right and centre-left MEPs.”
The race is still not over though because other candidates will be contesting the post and parties may still nominate other candidates until tomorrow at 6pm, before voting starts on Tuesday morning.
Sources within the EU parliament say a last-minute candidate is plausible because EU elections are known for their unexpected twists and turns. However, they believe it would be extremely hard for such a candidate to win the election, because presidential candidates usually secure support after weeks of negotiation with parties and meetings with MEPs.
Another source said: “There’s a strong feeling that the MEPs want a woman as president, but the majority of them don’t agree with Roberta Metsola on abortion. They can’t even fathom how a woman can be against abortion.
“So, for any last-minute candidate to even stand a chance, I think it has to be a pro-choice woman, because there hasn’t been a woman president in 20 years and women’s rights are being trampled over all over Europe.
“Still, I think it is almost impossible for Metsola to lose.”
On Wednesday, Metsola held a meeting with MEPs from the parliament’s second largest party, the Socialists and Democrats, which includes the four Maltese Labour MEPs.
She resonated with the Socialists, the Liberals and the Conservatives, so she has left a good impression on the majority of centre-right and centre-left MEPs
Sources close to the EPP said the meeting went very well and they were surprised at the support she was getting from MEPs that usually disagree with her party on several issues.
EU news website Agence Europe said the meeting was successful and that Metsola “made a favourable impression on the S&D group’s MEPs”. The S&D vote is crucial for Metsola, but sources close to the Socialists said the party is still undecided on whether to back the Maltese MEP on Tuesday, saying “negotiations are still ongoing”.
One source said she “delivered an exceptionally great presentation”, but also said the party was disappointed by her “lack of substance”.
“She was really good, but at moments it felt like she was trying way too hard to please the MEPs, and not all of them were convinced.”
They also said Socialist MEPs still grapple with her stance against abortion and some of them claim she told them she abstained from voting on certain pro-choice matters when, in fact, she voted against.
The S&D is also concerned with the overall under-representation of its group in the EU institutions since the European Parliament and the European Commission will be headed by centre-right leaders.
For Metsola, the road to the presidency became slightly more challenging on Thursday, when the Greens entered the race, nominating Swedish MEP Alice Bah Kuhnke as their candidate. Her candidacy was aimed at getting votes from those MEPs from other parties who oppose Metsola’s anti-abortion stance. This means votes will be more dispersed during the initial rounds.
“Kuhnke will make the journey longer for her, but Metsola is likely to win anyway,” said one source.
Metsola is running alongside three other candidates – Kosma Zlotowski (Polish MEP) from the European Conservatives and Reformists group, Alice Bah Kuhnke (Swedish MEP) from the Greens, and Sira Rego (Spanish MEP) from the United Left.
On Tuesday, MEPs will be asked to choose the candidate they prefer in a secret vote. If no candidate gets 50 per cent plus one of the votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and the parliament moves on to a second round of voting.
Each time nobody secures that absolute majority, the candidate with the least votes is dropped and parliament moves on to another round.
The first candidate to get an absolute majority wins the presidency.