Brave steps are needed on the part of European Union member-states to overcome deep-seated differences over the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, according to Roberta Metsola, the newly elected president of the European Parliament.
In an exclusive interview with Kathimerini, the 43-year-old Maltese politician, who last Tuesday became the third woman and the youngest person to ever ascend to the presidency, also explains what led her to make reference to the Cyprus issue in her first speech after being elected.
She also states that the conditions are not in place for a positive agenda in EU-Turkey relations.
What led you to make your reference to Cyprus in your maiden speech as president?
For me Europe is about solidarity and unity, in words, and in deeds. For Europe to be truly united we need to end the separation in Europe’s last divided nation. We must inject momentum and actively support the United Nations efforts to resolve the stalemate.
Do you see prospects of improved relations between the EU and Turkey in the new year, given Ankara’s policies on Cyprus and the Aegean, and the continuing deterioration of the rule of law domestically?
The ball is firmly in Turkey’s court on this. As the EU we are always ready to advance on a positive and collaborative agenda, but only if the conditions set allow it. That, in my view, is not the case at this point.
Are you optimistic that progress can be made on the main, politically explosive sticking points of the new Migration Pact during the second part of the term of this Parliament? Can frontline states like Greece and Malta expect something more concrete in terms of solidarity at times of extraordinary flows?
We have shown in the Parliament that progress and agreement is possible, across party lines and national divides. Now it’s up to the Council and member-states to show that they too can be bold and brave. This is a challenge that cannot wait.
Are Poland and Hungary really open to dialogue on the rule of law? Will the Parliament be pressing for a tougher stance against violators under your leadership?
Rule of Law is the fundamental value in our Union. Without it, nothing else will work, and if not firmly applied it will undermine trust among our countries. If there is one member-state where our fundamental values are under threat, then we are all at risk. Rest assured that the European Parliament will not let this go.
In your speech you also said “tomorrow is too late” to deal with climate change. But the Commission’s Fit for 55 proposals met with considerable hostility from member-states when introduced last summer – and that was before the energy crisis and the divisions it has exacerbated. Can the package pass with the necessary speed to achieve the targets set for 2030?
Yes, and it must. This is no longer a problem for another generation to deal with. This is here and now. It is a necessity, but also an opportunity. A chance for Europe to lead. A chance for Europe to relaunch. And a chance for Europe to re-invent itself, to ensure long-term growth, sustainability and prosperity.
Do you concede that the restrictions caused by the pandemic adversely affected the Parliament and favored the Council in the legislative process? Do you hope to regain that influence as remote work hopefully recedes?
I am proud of how late President Sassoli steered the Parliament during the pandemic. We kept the Parliament, 705 members from 27 countries, working throughout this whole period. We never stopped. We kept debating, we kept scrutinizing and we kept legislating.
I also believe that by offering the use of Parliament premises to those in need, President Sassoli and the Parliament showed solidarity in kind during this pandemic, in a way that sets an small but important example for Europe on how to bring the EU closer to people.
What would be the best way for you, his successor, to honor the memory of David Sassoli?
The best way to honor David would be for me to always stand up for the Parliament he loved so much and for the Europe he always fought for.