In a question and answer session with the University Philosophical Society (the Phil) on Thursday, President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola fielded questions ranging from the place of EU competition law during the energy crisis, to the experience of women in political life.
Responding to a question from Phil President Ellen McKimm, Metsola said that “women in leadership positions are still underrepresented in most places…including [in] Irish politics”.
She added that “politics is a worthy cause, because it is not an easy one, [and] being a woman in politics does not make it any easier”.
The Q&A session followed a ceremony in which Metsola was awarded the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage of the Phil.
The President of the European Parliament displayed optimism in the changing narrative of the political world, and the acknowledgment of marginalised peoples in governmental decision making. She stated “times are changing, because we are listening [to] and including all voices in society”.
Metsola also reflected upon recent events in Irish politics and culture, which centred on the celebration of historical female figures, including the Irish government’s declaration of the Feast of St. Brigid a public holiday, and the erecting of the first sculptures of accomplished women in the Long Room of Trinity’s Old Library.
Provost of Trinity College Linda Doyle, the first female head of the University in its 430 year history, described Metsola as “a hugely impressive woman” and that she was “delighted to have her in [her] presence”.
EU politics and policy
Upon being asked by McKimm why she opted for politics as “the medium [she] chose to seek change”, Metsola took the opportunity to expand on her political life, particularly focusing on the early years of her career, as well as her upbringing.
She detailed her experience of balancing an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for EU Parliament in 2004, with passing her final year law exams at the University of Malta.
Metsola stated that for her politics has been “lots of ups and downs”, but that she kept her faith with the mantra that she must pull herself up and continue. She went on to quote her mother, who advised her that “if you don’t use your voice, someone else will”.
She furthered this sentiment when answering about the relationship between EU institutions and its citizens. She spoke of her efforts to reach out to young people who are disillusioned with the political process, as well as to encourage those interested in politics to get involved. She advised the audience that “everyone’s voice matters, no matter how big or small”.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who appeared alongside Metsola at the event, faced questions from students regarding the role of the EU in Ireland, further EU integration, and how he has reacted to the current energy crisis.
In response to McKimm’s question regarding the “transformative nature of EU policies on the island of Ireland”, Varadkar began by stating that he “believes in national sovereignty”, but added that “coming together as the EU…we are much more likely to get results” on large, international, or existential issues.
To the same question, Metsola expanded on her original point regarding the legislative function of the EU by airing a point of grievance she has with the perception of her work.
She stated “the mistake we [EU representatives] make is that we do this work…then we think that everybody understands what we’ve done”. She concluded by saying one of the most integral parts of her work is “how we tell what we’re doing”.
When asked by another student about the need for EU competition law during a time of economic crisis, particularly citing the current energy crisis, Varadkar cemented his anti-nationalisation stance. He stated that he does not believe it was a “good idea” to gain ownership stakes in AIB after the 2008 financial crash, and therefore has the same opinion regarding energy companies.
Metsola followed in saying “competition law brings prices down”, but recognised that “companies have made billions” which have added to “difficult social and economic consequences”.
After the event had concluded, Metsola took time to chat with students, take selfies, and answer questions from student journalists. The same evening, she appeared on RTÉ’s Prime Time with Miriam O’Callaghan.