European Parliament debuts: racing driver, ex-paratrooper and Instagram influencer win seats

By Inti Landauro, Crispian Balmer and Marek Strzelecki

MADRID/ROME/WARSAW (Reuters) -While attention in the European Parliament elections has focused on far-right gains, some anti-establishment and outspoken candidates from the left and right are set to take up their seats. Here is a selection of the newly elected lawmakers:


FILIP TUREK – MOTORISTS’ PARTY    Czech car collector and former motor racer Filip Turek’s Motorists’ party is 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 protest party Oath, together coming third in the EU election with 10.3%.    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 in which he used the Nazi salute some years ago 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.



Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a well-known member of the German Bundestag and military expert, will enter the European Parliament for her liberal party, FDP.

She is a staunch supporter of Ukraine and has criticised German chancellor Scholz, her coalition partner, repeatedly for being too hesitant to provide weapons, including Germany’s “Taurus” cruise missiles.

She recently said that Scholz was an “autistic know-it-all”.

The 66-year-old led a high profile campaign, criticizing European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for imposing more bureaucracy and over-regulating the economy.

She has cultivated an approach of “plain text” (Klartext). Her slogan for the campaign was “Strack-Zimmermann – argumentative in Europe”.


He was his party’s lead candidate, but now Maximilian Krah will have to sit as an independent in the European Parliament after a series of scandals made him too toxic for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

A gifted orator, the lawyer, 47, belonged to his party’s extreme-right wing, earning attention from security services for his nationalistic and Islamophobic commentaries.

None of that stopped his party colleagues from overwhelmingly choosing him as their lead candidate in the European elections, but it was all the more embarrassing for the outspokenly patriotically German party when his assistant was charged with spying for China.

The final straw came when he told an Italian newspaper that not all members of the Nazis’ SS paramilitary wing were bad people – prompting Marine Le Pen’s National Gathering to cut ties with the AfD.


Another member of the AfD’s hard right wing, Petr Bystron criticised Germany’s sending of arms to help Ukraine in its fight against Russian invasion. It later emerged that the half-Czech, half-German businessman, 51, had been a regular on a propaganda news portal with close links to the Kremlin.

Czech security services alleged he had taken money for the appearances. Bystron did not specifically deny the allegations, but said they were part of a political attack on him.

During the pandemic, he was a prominent critic of a vaccination policy, accusing “globalists” of trying to “enslave” people with “compulsory vaccination”.


Her party may be near moribund, but the sailor, activist and ecologist Carola Rackete, 35, is one of the most prominent new faces to grace 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 real prominence captaining the Sea-Watch 3, defying authorities by rescuing Libyan refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean and landing them at Italian ports.

That landed her briefly in house arrest and earned the ire of right-wing politicians even as it made her a hero for many on the left, leading to her being chosen as joint lead candidate of Germany’s Left party for the European election. Though the party won less than 3%, she looks guaranteed a seat.

Although she is best known for rescue work, Rackete says she wants to focus in parliament on environmental and climate issues, focusing on fairly sharing the costs of adapting and minimising climate change between rich and poor countries.



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

    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 paratrooper 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.


    Salis, a 39-year-old Italian teacher, has been detained in Hungary for more than a year for allegedly assaulting far-right militants, something she denies. Her case attracted outrage in Italy in February when she was led into a court hearing with her feet and hands bound and a chain around her waist.

Prosecutors are seeking an 11-year sentence for her. Her high profile secured her a spot on the AVS electoral list and as an elected MEP she now enjoys immunity and must be freed by Hungary.



Chief executive of state-controlled refiner Orlen from 2018 until the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party lost power in 2023, Daniel Obajtek is facing several investigations.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Orlen artificially lowered fuel prices before the 2023 election to help PiS and whether it sold assets belonging to fellow Polish refiner Lotos below value to get regulatory clearance for a takeover.

    They are also investigating the loss of about $400 million by Orlen Trading Switzerland (OTS) in prepayments.

    Under Obajtek, Orlen acquired newspaper publisher Polska Press. Critics said it was an attempt by PiS to gain more control over the media but Orlen said it was purely a business transaction.

    Obajtek missed several scheduled hearings before a parliamentary commission and did not appear for questioning at the prosecutor’s office. He denies any wrongdoing.


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 Hannukah celebrations.

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

    Braun, who has also made pro-Russian statements in the past, 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.



Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera, 55, 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 has held the ministry’s job for six years and has been influential in Brussels where she was a proponent of the bloc’s energy market reform.

As Spain held the EU’s rotating presidency last year, she was a key figure at the COP28 conference in Dubai. She has not ruled out taking a job at the next European Commission.

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


Jorge Buxade 48, led the Spanish far-right party VOX to a solid standing in the Sunday elections, taking its number of seats to six from four.

He was the party’s voice in Brussels for the past five years.

The VOX performance was not as strong as other far-right groups in the bloc and was weaker in terms of share of the overall votes than in the most recent nationwide election last July.

The party’s showing was considered strong given competition from maverick influencer Alvise Perez and his “The Party is Over” movement, which gained three seats.

Buxade belongs to the most conservative wing of VOX, whose leader Santiago Abascal oscillates between a low-tax, small government libertarian stance to anti-immigration, anti-gay rights ultra-conservative positions.


Anti-establishment influencer Alvise Perez got 800,000 votes and three seats in the European Parliament, mainly from young male voters who see in the far-right activist a role model.

His party has no electoral programme, beside proposing the construction of a prison with no pool or gym for corrupt politicians. Perez promised to renounce his salary as an MEP if he elected.

Alvise, who has several judicial cases pending for alleged libel, did not engage in a traditional campaign but took advantage of his social network accounts – almost a million followers in Instagram, more than 500,000 subscribers in Telegram – to make his symbol, a squirrel with a Guy Fawkes mask, popular all over Spain.



A slick 28-year-old with a rapturous following among some of France’s youth, Jordan Bardella is the bright young thing of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN), leading the far-right party to victory over Macron’s centrists in Sunday’s vote.

Already an MEP having been first elected in 2019, Bardella has helped broaden the RN’s appeal, leading efforts to ditch its racist past by focusing on pocketbook issues, immigration and criticism of the European Union.

    He embraces his working-class roots on the rough outskirts of Paris, citing his Italian immigrant mother and Le Pen as the two women to which he owes everything.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday called a snap parliamentary election for later this month. If the far right were to win an outright majority in that vote, Bardella would be the most likely candidate for prime minister.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz and Thomas Escritt in Berlin, Inti Landauro and Emma Pinedo in Madrid, Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante in Rome, Gabriel Stargardter in Paris, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Alan Charlish, Marek Strzelecki and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw, Writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Ros Russell)











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