Greece is poised to have its first-ever female president, after lawmakers voted on Wednesday for senior judge Katerina Sakellaropoulou to succeed Prokopis Pavlopoulos when his term ends in March.
Sakellaropoulou, who was backed by 261 members of Greece’s 300-seat Parliament, was formerly the first woman to serve as president of the Council of State, the nation’s top administrative court.
Reuters news agency said the strong support she received from lawmakers was a rare display of unity in a legislature that often divides along party lines.
Sakellaropoulou’s name was put forward by the main center-right party, the New Democracy Party, and endorsed by opposition parties, including the leftist Syriza Party that lost power in July elections, and the center-left Movement for Change.
Sakellaropoulou is an authority on environmental protection and has been chairwoman of the Hellenic Society for Environmental Law since 2015.
The Guardian newspaper said the election of the ardent human rights advocate to the largely ceremonial position heralds “a new era for one of Europe’s more traditional nations”.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis welcomed Sakellaropoulou’s election as head of state, saying: “Today a window to the future has opened … Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism.”
Mitsotakis, who was criticized in the past for having too few female Cabinet members, said gender equality in Greece “starts from the top … with Greek women receiving the position they deserve”.
The nation has been attacked for gender-equality failures and was at the bottom of the European Institute for Gender Equality’s index in 2017. Eurostat, the European Commission’s agency that produces and analyzes statistics, said the pay gap in 2017 between men and women doing the same job was more than 12 percent.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, welcomed Sakellaropoulou’s appointment by tweeting that Greece was “moving ahead into a new era of equality”.
Sixty-three-year-old Sakellaropoulou, who is fluent in English and French, is not a politician and holds no party allegiances and is seen as a political outsider. She says international issues and the climate crisis will be her main challenges in her new role. She has previously called for the removal of religious affiliation from civilian identity cards and the granting of citizenship to migrants’ children.
“I look forward to a society which respects rights … heals the wounds of the past and looks with optimism at the future,” Greek media quoted her as saying.
Sakellaropoulou will formally take up her new role on March 13.
Greek presidents serve a five-year term after which they can be re-elected a maximum of one time.