The newly elected President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, has an established career in EU affairs, both for her home country of Malta and more broadly in the EU. This Just the Facts looks back at her career to date, leading her to succeeding David Sassoli, who tragically passed away on 11 January 2022 and the role and responsibilities of the President of the European Parliament.
A career in Europe
On 18 January 2022 and coincidentally her 43rd birthday, Roberta Metsola became the third woman to become President of the European Parliament.
Studied law both in the University of Malta (1997 – 2003) and the College of Europe (2003 – 2004). During this time, she was vice-chair of the European Democrat Students (2000 – 2002), the student branch of the European People’s Party, before becoming its secretary general in 2002.
Following her studies, she became Coordinator in the Justice and Home Affairs Unit at the Permanent Representation of Malta to the EU in Brussels from 2004 to 2012. She was subsequently a legal advisor of the European External Action Service until 2013.
Her work as an MEP
Metsola became one of the first women elected as an MEP in Malta, after winning a bye-election in April 2013, which began her political career. Her party, the Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista), sits in the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament. She was successfully re-elected in the 2014 and 2019 European Parliament elections.
Her work to date has included being vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions (2014 – 2019) and has been a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs since 2013. Here, she has been part of the Rule of Law Monitoring Group in that committee since 2018.
Metsola was also a member of the European Parliament’s committee that investigated the Panama Papers revelation (2016 – 2017). She has produced reports on sexual orientation protections in 2014 and on the migrant crisis in 2016. She has been criticised for “her long-standing political and personal stance against” abortion.
She was elected First Vice President of the European Parliament in November 2020, succeeding Mairead McGuinness, who had then become European Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union.
Elected as President
In November 2021, she had been chosen by the European People’s Party as their candidate to stand for election to the role of European Parliament president in January 2022.
David Sassoli, whose term as President of the European Parliament would end in January 2022, announced in December 2021 that he would not be standing for re-election.
He was hospitalised in September 2021, as reported, due to “pneumonia caused by Legionnaires disease, where he remained for several weeks.” and was readmitted to hospital just after Christmas. David Sassoli passed away on 11 January 2022.
On 17 January, the European Parliament held a ceremony in Strasbourg to mark Sassoli’s death, attended by dignitaries including French President Macron.
Metsola was elected European Parliament President on 18 January 2022 receiving 458 votes from MEPs. Two others stood in this election, Alice Bah Kuhnke (Greens) from Sweden and Sira Rego (GUE/NGL) from Spain, who received 101 and 57 respectively. Her term will last until July 2024, after the next European Parliament elections in May of that year.
Metsola got married in 2005 and has five children.
The role of President of the European Parliament
Since the first direct elections of the European Parliament in June 1979, a total of 17 presidents have been elected by MEPs, as outlined in Table 1. They each serve for a renewable term of 2.5 years, meaning each European Parliamentary term, which lasts for five years, has two presidents.
However, as can be seen in Table 2, this role has largely been held by politicians from the Member States in western Europe. Only three women have been President to date, each close to two decades apart: Simone Veil (1979) and Nicole Fontaine (1999), both from France, and Roberta Metsola (2022) from Malta.
|Number||President||Member State||In Office||European Parliament Group|
|1||Simone Veil (1927 – 2017)||France||July 1979 – January 1982||Liberal and Democratic Group|
|2||Piet Dankert (1934 – 2003)||Netherlands||January 1982 – July 1984||Socialist Group|
|3||Pierre Pflimlin (1907 – 2003)||France||July 1984 – January 1987||European People’s Party|
|4||C. Henery Plumb (1925)||United Kingdom||January 1987 – July 1989||European Democrats|
|5||Enrique Barón Crespo (1944)||Spain||July 1989 – January 1992||Socialist Group|
|6||Egon Klespsch (1930 – 2010)||Germany||January 1992 – July 1994||European People’s Party|
|7||Klaus Hänsch (1938)||Germany||July 1994 – January 1997||Party of European Socialists|
|8||José Maria Gil-Robles (1935)||Spain||January 1997 – July 1999||European People’s Party|
|9||Nicole Fontaine (1942 – 2018)||France||July 1999 – January 2002||European People’s Party|
|10||Pat Cox (1952)||Ireland||January 2002 – July 2004||European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party|
|11||Josep Borrell (1947)||Spain||July 2004 – January 2007||Party of European Socialists|
|12||Hans-Hert Pöttering (1945)||Germany||January 2007 – July 2009||European People’s Party|
|13||Jerzy Buzek (1940)||Poland||July 2009 – January 2012||European People’s Party|
|14||Martin Schulz (1955)||Germany||January 2012 – January 2017||Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats|
|15||Antonio Tajani (1953)||Italy||January 2017 – July 2019||European People’s Party|
|16||David Sassoli (1956 – 2022)||Italy||July 2019 – January 2022||Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats|
|17||Roberta Metsole (1979)||Malta||January 2022||European People’s Party|
Table 1: Presidents of the European Parliament: 1979 – 2022
|Memeber State||Held EP Presidency|
Table 2: Member States that have held the post of European Parliament President
The President’s main responsibilities are to preside over debates and activities of the European Parliament, enforcing its rules of procedures, similar to the role of Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann. A total of 14 Vice-Presidents serve under the President and are elected on the same day.
The President represents the European Parliament internally within the EU and internationally, while their signature is required for enacting EU law and the EU budget.
The President also chairs the Bureau of the European Parliament, which is responsible for institutional issues relating to the budget, administration, organisation and staff. They also chair the Conference of Presidents, a governing body of the European Parliament made up of presidents from each of the Parliament’s political groups.
More information about the work of Irish MEPs and the European Parliament, can be found on the European Parliament Liaison Office in Ireland’s website.