Roberta Metsola, the newly elected President of the European Parliament, has vowed to respect the hemicycle's majority opinion in favour of abortion, despite her long-standing political and personal stance against the procedure.
"The position of the parliament is unambiguous and unequivocal, and that is also my position," she told Euronews in an attempt to shut down the controversy surrounding her investiture.
"That is exactly what I will do throughout my mandate as president on this issue."
As a conservative lawmaker from Malta, a country where abortion remains illegal in all cases, Metsola consistently votes against parliamentary resolutions that defend the right to abortion. Her position stands in stark contrast with the majority inside the hemicycle, which advocates pro-choice viewpoints. Last year, the Parliament passed a resolution declaring safe access to abortion as as human right with 378 in favour and 255 against.
The issue became highly contentious in the days leading up the president's election, with several MEPs publicly denouncing Metsola for her past voting record. The press conference that followed her election on Tuesday morning quickly became dominated by abortion. To dispel further doubts, the president promised to stop voting altogether – in all sorts of political matters – and to always follow the position taken by the hemicycle.
Speaking to Euronews about the priorities for her 2.5-year tenure, Metsola highlighted the defence of rule of law and fundamental rights as a question of urgency. Some EU countries, like Poland and Hungary, are under intense scrutiny over legal reforms that have exacerbated democratic backsliding and could be soon see their EU funds frozen under a still-unused conditionality mechanism.
"This parliament stands for the rule of law. You have seen majorities across the house, across a broad spectrum of political groups, from left to right, that have stood for the rule of law everywhere," Metsola said.
"Where we see that values and principles, that laws [and] rights are regressing, this parliament is always the one that speaks first. I can assure you that's what is going to happen over the next two and a half years."
Another concern in Metsola's mind is the widening gap between the EU institutions and EU citizens, which she believes has only deepened during the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is the biggest challenge we have and it's our responsibility. It's mine, but not only mine. [It's] the responsibility of my colleagues, in this house, all of them, in order to make sure that we communicate and deliver our messages concretely and effectively, and that includes our visibility," the president said.
"We need to burst through the Strasbourg and Brussels bubble so that every village and every school, every class knows what the European Parliament is about, what it stands for, so that each and every student can one day aspire to be here with us."
Despite arriving in office in the midst of a wild Omicron spread, Metsola wants to look at the next two years "with energy, with positivity" and honour the legacy of her predecessor, David Maria Sassoli, the Italian social democrat who suddenly died last week, mere days before his term was due to expire.
"We [must] make sure that by the time elections are happening in 2024, each member of this house will have something to show to his or her citizens that the priorities that he or she voted on are the priorities that were delivered upon," she said.
With her appointment as president, Metsola becomes the highest-ranking Maltese national in the EU's history and the third woman to occupy the parliament's top job, after Simone Veil and Nicole Fontaine.
"I'm going to make sure that, besides the fact that I'm the third woman president of this house, that not another 20 years pass before another woman gets elected president of this parliament," Metsola said.
"I stand on the shoulders of giants, of heroes that went through unspeakable difficulties to make this possible for me and my colleagues in this house to be able to do the job that for every young girl who is watching us today, they can dream of and they can achieve."