Ssince Brexit, the European Parliament has 705 MEPs. Most of them also remain unknown and unrecognized in the EU bubble. Roberta Metsola was an exception even before she was elected to the head of parliament. The Christian Democrat from Malta, who has been a member of Parliament since 2013, drew attention to herself early on: as a domestic politician who argued outright, sought political conflict and was still able to organize majorities. In the classic sense, she was never conservative on these issues. She campaigned for a fair distribution of migrants in Europe. She campaigned for equal rights for sexual minorities. And she was among the first to question her European People’s Party’s cosiness towards Viktor Orbán.
In the European Parliament, it is the strength of the argument that counts, not the geographical origin – as Metsola put it on Tuesday. The phrase sums up their rise. It is exceptional for politicians from small countries to get top jobs in the EU. No one from Malta, the smallest member country, had ever managed to do this before. Metsola is therefore putting itself in a leading position when it comes to future elections on the island.
She herself has been politicized in the country’s polarized atmosphere, where Christian Democrats and Social Democrats have long struggled for power. Its initiation was the dispute over EU accession in the early 2000s. As a law student, she threw herself into the fray on the pro-campaign side, in the Christian Democrat student organization. They narrowly prevailed in the 2003 referendum. Even then, there was a topic that Metsola was now catching up with: the question of whether the small state in the EU could maintain its identity, also with regard to the legally stipulated ban on abortion. Metsola and her party referred to guarantees that the country received when it joined in 2004.
Her surname is not Maltese but Finnish. In the Ring of Christian Democratic Students, the European network, Metsola met a young, up-and-coming Finnish politician. As early as 1999 they demonstrated in Helsinki against the Belarusian autocrat Lukashenko. They later married, today they have four sons and live in Brussels. In 2009 they both tried to enter the European Parliament. That failed. When Metsola was able to replace a party colleague in 2013, her husband Ukko switched to business. As luck would have it, she turned 43 on the day of her election. She didn’t want to celebrate big, neither one nor the other. “Thanks and get to work,” she said after her election.