One of Greece’s top judges has become the nation’s first female president.
Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou on Wednesday was elected to the largely ceremonial post after her nomination by the ruling conservative party was backed by 261 ministers of parliament in the 300-member Parliament – a rare display of unity in Greece’s fractious politics.
The 63-year-old expert in environmental and constitutional law will succeed Prokopis Pavlopoulos, whose five-year term expires in March. Sakellaropoulou will take her oath of office on March 13.
Sakellaropoulou, from the northern city of Xanthi, was also the first woman to head the Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, taking on that role in 2018 with the support at the time of the government led by the left-wing Syriza party, which lost power to New Democracy in an election in July last year.
The daughter of a Supreme Court judge, Sakellaropoulou completed her postgraduate studies at Paris’s Sorbonne university.
Sakellaropoulou has written numerous papers on environmental protection and chairs a society on environmental law.
For decades, failure by Parliament to elect a president in Greece could lead to a snap election. Following a recent reform, the process to select a president can go up to five voting rounds in Parliament with the threshold starting at 200 votes and gradually falling to the majority of those present in the room.
The president is nominally the head of the Greek state and commander-in-chief, officially confirming governments and laws. While they technically have the power to declare war, they can only do so in conjunction with the government.
Sakellaropoulou is joining a small group of women leading European Union countries.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel – “the world’s most powerful woman”, according to Forbes magazine – was elected in 2005 and will remain in power until 2021.
King Philippe of Belgium chose 44-year-old francophone liberal Sophie Wilmes as interim prime minister in October 2019, the first woman to hold that post, while 51-year-old conservative Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was elected president of Croatia in January 2015. Grabar-Kitarovic is due to be succeeded next month by Zoran Milanovic.
Former EU auditor Kersti Kaljulaid in October 2016 became the first female president of Estonia, while liberal lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova, 46, took office in June 2019 as Slovakia’s first woman president.
In Denmark, 41-year-old Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen became prime minister in June 2019, and in Finland, Sanna Marin became, at the age of 34, the youngest sitting prime minister in the world in December 2019.
Elsewhere in Europe, but outside the EU, other women currently in power include Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg; Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir; Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili; and Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic. Several European nations have queens who are head of state but are unelected.