Metsola’s charm offensive brings European election campaign to life – Reuters

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THE HAGUE — Roberta Metsola never explicitly asked for their votes, but the European Parliament president was clearly campaigning.

“Ask me anything,” she said, kicking off a forum Thursday night with around a thousand Leiden University students, going through questions on everything from the war in Ukraine to the Qatargate corruption scandal, and bringing a bit of a rock star feel to the crowded boardroom.

The Maltese EU lawmaker was in the Netherlands for a two-day trip to drum up interest in the 2024 European elections – and, perhaps, to boost her own profile amid rumors she is eyeing the work of Ursula von der Leyen as head of the EU executive. She notably made a pit stop on Friday morning to visit Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, one of the EU’s top leaders, who hailed Metsola as “efficient” and “strong”.

It was essentially an unofficial campaign kick-off, kicking off a year of political maneuvering ahead of the 27 national votes that could trigger a reshuffle of key EU posts – and determine the future of Metsola.

“It’s not enough for you to vote, your friends must vote,” Metsola implored the students. “And if they don’t want to, ask me and I will contact them.”

Metsola presented herself more as an ambassador of European democracy than as a political activist.

“Rather than a campaign – when I was elected I said that I wanted to burst the Brussels and Strasbourg bubble: that’s what I meant, by being here and doing that all over the world. ‘Europe,” Metsola told reporters on Friday morning.

Yes, EU can

Metsola, 44, easily connected with the young crowd, garnering laughs and keeping students’ attention while recounting a host of personal anecdotes about her first unsuccessful attempt to be elected as an MEP at 24; her large Maltese family (she has four sons, whom she drives to school every day — and 26 first cousins); and her experience as a woman in politics.

A former electoral law student, she told them that she is an election freak who devours political biographies. She is currently reading a book by former Obama speechwriter David Litt.

“The reason I’m here is because I want to convince you to vote, to potentially run for office, to fight for a cause you believe in,” she told the young people gathered there. -down.

A Ukrainian student named Yana, 24 (who, like other students interviewed, did not provide a surname) said she had lived under the Russian occupation of Bucha – released exactly a year ago right after Metsola’s visit to Kyiv – and thanked the president for her. support. “Roberta is very inspiring, very bright, very easy going. She seems very human,” Yana told POLITICO after the talk.

Roberta Metsola was asked if her trip meant she was now officially in campaign mode | Frédérick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

Metsola’s views on migration and LGBTQ+ rights resonated with the savvy student crowd, who also saw his visit – just over a year before the election – as more than a simple disinterested plea for democratic engagement.

“You could see that she was already campaigning for 2024, because she first told us that you can go and vote, and that it is important to hold your politicians accountable for what they do,” said said Ilan, a 22-year-old French student majoring in public administration.

“So I think that was probably a way of saying, I can be held accountable for my program and I keep my promises,” he said.

Isabel, a 21-year-old studying international relations, said Metsola’s personal approach was “very charismatic” – even acknowledging it as a concerted strategy to connect with younger voters like her. “To me, that’s always a sign that she’s a politician, because she’s kind of trying to get us to sympathize with her.”

The most divisive question of the evening came from Gijs, a tall student in a white shirt and black waistcoat, who said, “If I say I did a Q&A with Roberta Metsola, most people would just say : ‘Who is this ?’ So my question would be: what is the European Parliament going to do to bridge the gap between the EU and the average citizen? »

His question partly referred to an apparent gap between politics and reality in the so-called nitrogen crisis, where Dutch farmers strongly oppose EU environmental laws.

“We need to explain it more, I understand,” Metsola said, adding that not all EU national parliaments outside the Netherlands have a healthy enough culture of debating new EU laws. and how they can impact sectors like agriculture.

Asked on Friday whether her trip meant she was now officially in campaign mode, Metsola said: “Rather than a campaign, when I was elected I said I wanted to burst the Brussels and Strasbourg bubble: that’s what I meant by being here and doing this all over Europe.

After the Q&A session, Metsola headed for the exit amid a crowd of students gathered around her demanding selfies.


For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLICY Survey of surveys.

The next morning, she received a resounding endorsement from Prime Minister Rutte, despite the fact that they belong to different political families at EU level. (Rutte is part of the liberal Renew faction, while Metsola hails from the center-right European People’s Party.)

Rutte praised Metsola before inviting him to his office, saying he was “really impressed” with his work as leader of parliament. “The way you present your case to the European Council at every meeting we have… is very impressive,” he told reporters outside his office on Friday morning.

So should she become president of the European Commission or get a second term as head of parliament? “Obviously what the status will be of all the roles that everyone will take on after the election, we don’t know,” the Dutch leader said.


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