Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Influencers, activists and an army general: new MEPs heading to European parliament

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While attention has focused on gains made by far-right and centrist parties in the European Parliament elections, this term’s intake includes an assorted – and often contrasting – mix of lawmakers. They include a social media influencer, a racing driver, and a former Italian army general. Here are a few to watch:

Germany

Carola Rackete, Die Linke (the Left)

Sailor, activist and conservation scientist Carola Rackete, 35, is one of the most prominent new faces of the Left to sit on the European Parliament’s benches.

Rackete spent much of her early adulthood staffing research voyages to the Antarctic and protesting deforestation, but she came to political prominence captaining the Sea-Watch 3, defying Italy’s then-interior minister, Matteo Salvini, by rescuing Libyan refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean and landing them at Lampedusa.

That landed her briefly under house arrest and earned her the ire of rightwing politicians even as it made her a hero for many on the left, leading to her being chosen as the joint lead candidate of Germany’s Left party for the European election.

Although she is best known for rescue work, Rackete says she wants to focus in parliament on environmental and climate issues, including climate adaptation in nature.

Cyprus

Fidias Panayiotou, 24, YouTube prankster

Fidias Panayiotou said his election was ‘a shock’ and ‘a miracle’. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

A popular YouTuber and TikToker, Panayiotou has stunned the political establishment in the island nation by taking one of the country’s six MEP seats, snatching 19.4% of the vote.

He describes himself as a “professional mistake-maker” and admits he knows little about politics or the parliament, but has tens of millions of subscribers to his videos such as “I travelled to India with only $10”.

“It was a shock what happened, a miracle,” he told the state broadcaster CyBC. “The parties should take it as a warning that they must modernise and listen to the people.”

Italy

Roberto Vannacci, the League

Roberto Vannacci campaigned for Matteo Salvini’s League with the slogan More Italy! Less Europe. Photograph: Andrea Calandra/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Vannacci is an Italian army general who last year published a book disparaging LGBTQ+ people, migrants, minorities and feminists, to widespread criticism.

His ideas drew outrage from many quarters but they resonated with the leader of the far-right League, Matteo Salvini, who signed him up to be a top candidate for his party. Now Vannacci is on his way to Brussels.

In his best-selling book, Vannacci questioned whether people of colour could ever be Italian, even if they were born in the country, and defended a person’s right “to hate”.

A 55-year-old former paratroop commander, Vannacci was a military attaché at Italy’s embassy in Moscow. He is under investigation for embezzlement during his time in Russia, something he denies. He has also been suspended from the military, accused of discrediting the army with his book.

Czech Republic

Filip Turek, Motorists Alliance

Filip Turek’s Motorists party, in partnership with the Oath movement, won two seats in its first participation in the European elections. Photograph: Michal Krumphanzl/CTK/Alamy

A former racing driver, Filip Turek is part of a Eurosceptic group not represented in the Czech parliament that says it defends the rights of drivers against EU climate policies. It formed a coalition with the protest party Oath, together coming third in the EU election in the country with a 10.3% share of the vote.

Turek, 38, has seen his popularity grow through social networks with his “petrolhead” image and calls to reshape Europe.

But police have also been investigating pictures from some years ago in which he used the Nazi salute, and other activities possibly suggesting sympathy for the Nazis. He has not been charged and has brushed off the accusations as misunderstanding of a past bad taste in humour.

Spain

Teresa Ribera. Socialist party

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Teresa Ribera has led an ambitious green agenda for Spain’s Socialist party since 2018. Photograph: Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters

The energetic and outspoken Spanish energy minister, Teresa Ribera, will lead the contingent of 20 MEPs the Socialist party retained after opinion polls initially indicated the ruling party was heading towards a severe defeat.

The technocratic Ribera, 55, has held the ministry’s job for six years and is already influential in Brussels where she has been a proponent of the bloc’s energy market reform.

In Spain, she has shepherded an ambitious green agenda since 2018, championing a harder, faster transition to a zero-carbon economy.

Ribera is also highly likely to be Spain’s pick for a European commissioner with the environment portfolio – in which case, she will not be taking up her seat.

Poland

Grzegorz Braun , Confederation

Grzegorz Braun has described Jewish Hanukah celebrations as ‘satanic’. Photograph: Piotr Nowak/EPA

Grzegorz Braun, of the Polish far-right Confederation party, caused international outrage in December when he took a fire extinguisher from a wall in the lobby of the parliament to put out candles lit as part of Hanukah celebrations.

Afterwards, he took to the podium in the chamber, describing the Jewish holiday as “satanic” and saying he was restoring “normality”.

Braun, 57, had already gained notoriety with stunts such as dumping a Christmas tree decorated in the colours of the European Union and Ukraine in the bin, and damaging a microphone during a talk by a Holocaust historian.

Alvise Perez wants to build the largest prison in Europe. Photograph: Raúl Caro Cadenas/EPA

Spain

Alvise Perez, The Party is Over

The 34-year-old from Seville, who once worked for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, has shocked the Spanish establishment by becoming an MEP for a party that has no electoral programme, rails against immigrants, and wants to build the largest prison in Europe.

“Even a person who has a gang tattoo: you’re going to fucking jail. If we have to put 40,000 guys in there, we will put them in there … And if the UN shows up, I’ll laugh in their face,” he was reported to have said in El País.

Perez, who promised to renounce his salary as an MEP if he elected, won almost 800,000 votes and has almost 1 million followers on Instagram despite having very little profile in traditional media.

Another one of his specialties is harassing the press, says the Spanish newspaper. He points out journalists so that his followers can attack them on social media.

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