The Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola became President of the European Parliament on Tuesday for the second half of the EU legislature, until 2024, and will be the third woman to hold this position in the history of the European Parliament, as well as the youngest and the first to come from the smallest country in the European Union.
With a bouquet of flowers and a "happy birthday" from her colleagues - she turns 43 today - Metsola solemnly thanked a large majority of MEPs for their support in electing her to the presidency of an institution where she has been working since 2013, after a diplomatic career and a youth of support for the European cause.
In her first speech after her election, Metsola warned against "false and cheap" nationalism and authoritarianism, "which offer no solutions", and called for "countering the anti-European narrative" of those who continue to "test the democratic values" of the Union.
The work of the European Parliament, she said, "matters" to groups such as judges threatened by their independence, essential workers or those fleeing natural disasters, as well as to "every woman in Europe who is still fighting for her rights".
She said she was one of the first Europeans to experience the Erasmus programme - she was one of the first Maltese to do so - and that her generation "does not see an old or a new Europe" but one where differences are celebrated "because they are what makes us unique".
"The EU is a threat simply because it exists," said the new President of the European Parliament, who addressed those who "undermine democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression and fundamental rights" and those who see women and LGTBIQ+ as "targets" to tell them that the Parliament "will always stand up to them".
In one of the moments that drew unanimous applause from the entire Chamber, Metsola also addressed the families of journalists murdered in recent years in Europe to tell them that "your fight for truth and justice" is also the fight of the European Parliament.
Criticised for her stance on abortion, Metsola also pointed out that electing a woman as President of the Parliament for the first time in more than two decades "matters inside and outside our walls", but called for "more to come".
"The commitment of our institutions to have more diversity and gender equality and to guarantee women's rights, all our rights, must be reaffirmed," she said.
"I have stood on the shoulders of giants," said the woman who today becomes the third woman to preside over the European Parliament and the first leader of an EU institution to come from Malta, the smallest country in the European Union with just over half a million inhabitants.
She acknowledged and thanked the legacy of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and the first woman to preside over the European Parliament, as well as all the nameless women who fought "so that we could have the opportunities that they never had" and also those who have lost their lives due to violence against women.
Metsola won 458 votes out of the 616 validly cast, a much larger majority than her predecessor David Sassoli won in 2019, although it was made up of the same major groups: the People's Party, the Liberals and the Social Democrats, who reached a last-minute agreement on Monday afternoon.
This coalition was joined this morning by the Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), who withdrew their candidate earlier in the day and voted for the Maltese MEP.
The other two contenders, Sweden's Alice Bah Kuhnke of the Greens and Spain's Sira Rego of the Left, received 101 and 57 votes respectively.
Metsola succeeds Italian Social Democrat David Sassoli, who died on Tuesday at the age of 65, and has a mandate for the next two and a half years, until the end of the parliamentary term and the next elections to the European Parliament.