The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

Roberta Metsola: Victory for her, a loss for PN

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 5 December 2021, 09:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Roberta Metsola’s nomination for the presidency of the European Parliament is a breath of fresh air for Malta on the international stage.

In the past years, Malta’s name has not been associated with good things. The John Dalli saga, the rejection of Toni Abela’s nomination to the Court of Auditors and, more recently, the grey-listing of Malta by the Financial Action Task Force are all chapters we would have gladly done without.

The golden passport scheme is, yes, bringing in money, but the European Union never misses a chance to remind the Maltese government that it should be dropped. Two months ago, when European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Malta, she took the opportunity to tell Prime Minister Robert Abela that the programme should be halted, also because Malta is giving easy access to the European Union’s 27 members. The government did not listen.

So it was good to hear, for once, that a Maltese citizen has made a good name for herself and the country after being selected as the European People’s Party candidate for the election to the European presidency. She still has to complete the job in January, but having arrived this far is already a huge achievement.

It’s far better than what Joseph Muscat managed to do. He had also been named as a potential candidate for a top European post, even higher than that which Metsola aims to reach. But he did not make it, and the EU must be thanking its lucky stars after what happened later.

Brussels career

To the public out there, Metsola has always made it clear that her focus is on her international career. She has been contesting for the European Parliament since the first election was held in 2004, but she was never on the ballot sheet when national elections were held.

With all the turmoil that existed (and still exists) in the Nationalist Party in the past years, hers was always one of the names that were put forward when the party was heading towards a leadership race.

It happened both when Simon Busuttil resigned after the massive defeat in the 2017 election, and also when internal forces were pushing Adrian Delia out of the seat he had democratically achieved. Both times, Metsola was placed on the list of potential candidates for the job of party and opposition leader, with many believing that she would have been the perfect choice to lift the PN out of its darkest hour.

But Metsola, twice, shunned the idea and ploughed on to continue building her career in Brussels. She always kept an eye on Malta, and many times she has been labelled as a “traitor” by those who believe that Malta should come first and foremost, even when in the wrong. Still, she always gave the impression that her emphasis was not to progress in Malta, but to make headway in Europe.

She was first named as Vice-President of the European Parliament, the first Maltese to hold such a position. A year later, she is now aiming to go a step further and, given the way things work at the European Parliament, she will be the favourite to land the job.

She has built a solid image in the EP circles, has been entrusted with top tasks, and she has always been highly-regarded as a politician who means business. The fact that two-thirds of the MPs who belong to the European People’s Party chose her as their preferred candidate goes a long way to explain the kind of respect she enjoys.

Nationalist Party

Many top past and present PN officials congratulated Metsola on her achievement, but deep down they know that while the party has gained in reputation as one of its top representatives has reached an unprecedented level, it has probably “lost” Metsola, maybe for good. If her personal growth and achievements away from the islands continues, it will become even harder for the party to convince her to take up a role in Pieta’.

It’s more unlikely now that she will give up lucrative positions in Brussels to possibly take over the PN leadership. When one compares the situation within the PN and Metsola’s personal ascension to the top rung of the European Parliament, there will always be arguments that for now it is better – for her – to keep gaining experience in Brussels.

She will always keep her links with the Nationalist Party. After all, she is in Brussels after having contested on the PN ticket and will need the party if she intends to contest again in 2024. But, right now, the further distance she puts between her and the PN would be better for her, given the situation the PN finds itself in.

And who would blame her for this?

The PN continues to lose popularity in Malta. All surveys carried out in the past months show that, in spite of all of Labour’s mistakes and murky links, the PN still trails Labour heavily. If the election confirms what the latest survey is showing, then the PN is in for an even bigger defeat than the ones of 2013 and 2017.

The PN has not found its feet in spite of the double change in leadership since the last general election. A strong PN would have made inroads into the hearts of the voters, also considering all the scandals that the Labour government has been involved in, but as it is at present the PN is not seen as a credible, alternative government.

The latest defection – that of international secretary Roselyn Borg Knight, who announced she was withdrawing her candidacy as a general election candidate – confirms that the PN continues to struggle to keep genuine people within its fold, while at the same time having to retain dinosaur politicians who, in spite of repeated defeats, believe they still have something to contribute. Their selfishness is bringing the party down.

It’s clear that Metsola does not want to be part of this. For her, a climb up the political ladder in Brussels is much more worth it than having to deal with the internal strife within the party. The way, for example, the PN parliamentary group came up with an official position on the cannabis law drew so much criticism. The group said that it had reached its conclusions after a wide consultation exercise, but this did not go wide enough to include the party’s own executive committee.

How Labour reacted

The Labour Party was probably happy to see Metsola being nominated for this top European post, as this will keep her away from Maltese politics. As PN leader, Metsola would be a tough opponent, and she would probably serve as a bridge to those many PN voters who are so unhappy with the way things are going in the party.

The novelty of having the first woman as party leader would also help although, to be successful, she would need to revolutionise the set-up, starting with getting rid of those politicians who were responsible for the 2013 debacle and have since caused so much trouble for the party.

Prime Minister Robert Abela expressed his support, even though he could not resist the temptation of referring to how the PL grassroots think of Metsola. By referring to her work as an MEP, and describing it as being harmful to Malta’s reputation, Abela stooped to a low level of politics which is unbecoming of a prime minister. To please blinkered supporters, Abela lost points with the thinking population.

What is then hard to understand is why the Labour media chose not to report on Metsola’s nomination. Is it too much for the Labour diehards to chew to see that a PN exponent made the headlines for the right reasons? Such an omission shows that Labour cannot accept success when it is on the other side of the political fence.

 

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