President of the European Parliament in The Hague: ‘Your friends don’t want to vote? Let me call them’
‘We have to have accountability.’ That was Roberta Metsola’ for her audience on Thursday evening. The President of the European Parliament had come to the Wijnhaven building to speak with students.
‘You are not here to listen to me. You are here to ask questions’, Metsola began in the packed lecture hall. ‘I’m probably going to regret this, but ask me anything.’
The audience did not give her a chance to change her mind. Students from the BASIS International Studies association and the Master’s in European Studies passed the microphone through the auditorium from top to bottom, for questions ranging from the steps taken to address the corruption scandal in the European Parliament to the European response to the war in Ukraine and the BoerBurgerBeweging’s anger at ‘Brussels’. In her answers, Metsola often returned to the importance of accountability. ‘I could have said that the corruption scandal was before my time, but that is not how I want to look back on my term in a few years’ time’, she said, for example, only to add later: ‘If you are elected, you are accountable to all those people who voted for you.’
To the audience, which consisted largely of students from Humanities, Law and FGGA, students from The Hague University of Applied Sciences and some curious curious high-school students, she gave a task: ‘Go vote and persuade your friends to do the same. If they don’t want to vote, you can contact me and I’ll call them. You don’t believe me? I really do. People are stunned when they hear me on the other end of the line.’
Steep hill for women leaders
The tone became more serious when Metsola was asked the most personal question of the evening. As a woman, how has she kept going in difficult times and what advice would she give to other women? Metsola was applauded for her answer about all the women who have helped her in her career. ‘The hill is still steeper for women’, she said. ‘The least we can do is to help each other. After all, good leaders create followers, but great leaders create new leaders.’
Selfie with the President
It was clear that Europe is alive and well among students: dozens of fingers went up in each new round of questions. To the disappointment of many, by no means all the questions could be answered. Afterwards, it was time for the final part of the evening: the photo opportunity. Roberta Metsola took the first selfie with the moderator, Professor André Gerrits, showing hundreds of smiling audience faces in the background. Then she disappeared into a throng of students who all managed to get their own selfie with the President.