“Yesterday I expressed the gratitude we owe to Louise Weiss [escritora feminista], who guided our first steps. I would like to add one more word and mention her outstanding contribution to the struggle waged for the cause of the emancipation of women”. This is how Simone Veil recognized one of her feminist referents on July 17, 1979, after becoming the first president of the European Parliament After her, only Nicole Fontaine has headed the institution, until this Tuesday, in which Roberta Metsola was elected, the day she turns 43, in the first round with 458 votes of the 616 valid votes cast –101 votes for the green candidate, Alice Bah Kuhnke, and 57 for the candidate of the Left, Sira Rego.
Veil, Fontaine and Metsola are from the family of the popular Europeans, albeit with distant political positions: while Veil is a symbol of the fight for women’s reproductive rights by promoting the decriminalization of abortion in France, Metsola not only does not publicly question the fact that abortion is illegal in her country, Malta, but has repeatedly voted against him in the European Parliament.
Just 40 years after Veil’s speech, on July 16, 2019, in Strasbourg, before the plenary session of the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen became president of the European Commission with a speech that tried to weave the feminist thread with Veil: “Exactly 40 years ago Simone Veil [impulsora de la ley de despenalización del aborto en Francia en 1975] She became the first female president of the European Parliament. Thanks to her and other iconic figures, I introduce myself.”
Metsola did not remember Simone Veil in her presentation speech on Tuesday, something that the Greens’ candidate, former Swedish Minister of Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke, did when talking about reproductive rights. The third candidate has been the Spanish Sira Rego (IU / The Left), who has also made a feminist, anti-fascist and environmental statement. Alice Bah Kuhnke has achieved 33 votes above those who make up her group, while Rego has added 18 from other groups. In both cases, they may come from escapes from socialists and liberals who have not followed the pact to elect Metsola, or from the Non-Registered –M5S, Junts, etc–.
Of the 690 MEPs who have voted, of the 705 that make up the European Parliament, there have been 74 blank and invalid votes, for which 616 valid votes have been cast and, therefore, the majority was 309, well below the 458 achieved by Metsola in the first vote.
Metsola arrived after the agreement between popular, socialists and liberals that revalidated the 2019 agreement by which David Sassoli (PD/S&D), recently deceased, became president of the European Parliament. And after, also, the last withdrawal of the Polish ultra-conservative Kosma Złotowski (ECR, the Vox group), which guaranteed him a large majority of votes that, in addition, would draw the following future distribution of the 14 vice-presidencies with a progressive minority, according to parliamentary sources: three for the EPP -which remains with the presidency-; five for the Social Democrats; three for Renew (Liberals); one for ECR; one for the Greens and one for The Left.
The pact, moreover, does not question the powerful general secretary, Klaus Welle, a German conservative who has been in office since 2009.
The Maltese has not talked about abortion in her speech, or reproductive rights, or feminist references. Metsola, yes, has remembered the recently deceased Sassoli, a reference in the fight against indifference and hope, as he defined himself. “He put the dignity of people first, along with solidarity and service to the people. David fought hard to put everyone at the same table. I am determined to reinforce that culture of debate. We are a unique institution in the world, and I want Parliament to be more modern, effective and efficient. I want to be a Speaker of a Parliament that seeks solutions to the challenges we face.”
Knowing that she is being examined for her position against women’s reproductive rights, Metsola wanted to wink at society: “I have defended positions that are not easy, against racism, LGTBIQ causes or empowering women, girls I’ve been in all those fights.”
In her speech after being elected, she made one more gesture: “Our Parliament is important for the women of Europe who fight for their rights.”
In addition, he has made gestures regarding climate change and geopolitics: “Ukraine is under threat, and Belarus is a hot spot. I am here to ask for your confidence and your vote to help together build the Europe of tomorrow and that citizens believe again.”
The candidate of the Greens, the former Swedish Minister of Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke, for her part, also recalled Sassoli’s legacy and built a bridge with Simone Veil, the first president of the European Parliament: “As its president, I will honor the legacy of former president Simone Veil with an initiative to be able to support people and organizations fighting for reproductive and sexual rights, where they are threatened”.
Alice Bah Kuhnke has also recovered a personal experience to talk about the threat of the extreme right and xenophobia: “I was ten years old when one day I picked up the phone and the Nazis told me that I did not belong to Sweden, the place where I was born and grown up. That person told me that he would kill me and my family if we don’t leave the country. My native country, my home. Those threats never stopped, but my fear turned into anger and that anger turned into political action. I am I was elected by citizens. I am a Member of this House. For all those who keep telling me that I do not belong here, you are wrong. The pro-democracy majority in this House will never allow you to define who does or does not belong in this Parliament and in our European family “.
The Spanish Sira Rego (IU / La Izquierda) has also remembered Sassoli, and has made a speech focused on feminism, environmentalism and anti-fascism, while reaching out to social democrats and greens to articulate progressive positions in the European Parliament: “The climate emergency is already here, that is why this Parliament must respond to the eco-social crisis and provide a fair solution to the crisis, defending employment, public services and women’s rights: not one step backwards in our right to abortion.”
Rego has also spoken of the threat of the extreme right: “Their attacks on LGTBI people, migrants, human rights are not accidental… Their project is that of a minority that needs to confront us. They have declared war on the human rights. We are against injustice and inequality. We need a broad alliance against reactionary barbarism. That is why I call for a new consensus that places the common good and social rights at the center. That is why I ask for the support of all that you recognize yourself in those who save lives in the Mediterranean, with the working class, the women who challenge their reactionary governments, the youth who ask for effective measures in the face of the climate crisis, those who demand public services, a feminist horizon. I ask for your support for a proposal that is inspired by democratic and revolutionary Europe, the one to which freedom and equality added fraternity, a more democratic, fairer, more fraternal Europe and anti-fascist.
The European PP group is the largest in the European Parliament (187 seats out of 705), followed by the Socialists and Democrats (145 seats). Next are the Liberals (Renew, 98 seats); the extreme right (ID, 75 seats); Greens (68 seats); ultraconservatives (ECR, 63 seats) and La Izquierda (39 seats). The group of Not Enrolled has 36 seats.