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BREAKING NEWS

Cooks, crooks and videotape: Europe's new lawmakers

Cooks, crooks and videotape: Europe's new lawmakers
FILE PHOTO: Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian prime minister and leader of Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party, reacts at a European Parliament election polling station in Milan, Italy, May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane -
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Guglielmo Mangiapane(Reuters)
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By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – From a TV chef and stand-up comic to a man in jail and a former prime minister famed for raunchy mansion parties, the new European Parliament features no shortage of less than run-of-the-mill lobby fodder.

It’s not sure yet who will take every one of the 751 seats, but counts in 28 countries have revealed some colourful resumes.

One who might not make it to the swearing-in is Oriol Junqueras. He’s sitting in a Spanish jail, on trial with other Catalan former regional officials for sedition after helping to organise an independence referendum in 2017 that angered Madrid.

No such constraints should hold back Silvio Berlusconi, the 82-year-old media tycoon and four-time Italian premier. He has survived a string of charges ranging from fraud to hiring an under-age prostitute for “bunga bunga” parties at his villa.

After emergency bowel surgery last month, Berlusconi should take up his seat for his centre-right Forza Italia party on July 2 in the Strasbourg where – 16 years ago to the day – he infamously likened a German MEP to a Nazi camp guard.

Berlusconi is not the only ex-premier in the new intake.

Poland’s Beata Szydlo is perhaps best known in Brussels for vainly trying to block the reappointment of her own countryman, Donald Tusk, as EU summit chairman – a rare example of a government putting hometown hatreds ahead of getting one of its own nationals into a plum seat in the European institutions.

While Szydlo’s socially conservative, eurosceptic ruling party improved its score, liberals hailed the election of Robert Biedron: He will stand out among Polish MEPs – though not among the legislative body as a whole – for being openly gay.

YOUNGSTAR

Standing out for his youth will be the lead candidate for France’s far-right National Rally. At just 23, Jordan Bardella is fully 18 years younger than the otherwise youthful President Emmanuel Macron, whose party he beat into second place, and two years too young to run for office in his family’s native Italy.

Among novelties in the chamber, Niyaki Kizilyurek will be the first MEP from Cyprus’s Turkish community.

And if the Catalan separatist Junqueras’s troubles with the law is bound up with his political activity, other MEPs face more personal troubles with the forces of justice.

Peter Lundgren’s hopes of returning for the far-right Sweden Democrats have been hit by a sexual harassment investigation after he admitted to drunken conduct towards a party colleague.

That has not stopped Teuvo Hakkarainen. Fined this year for drunkenly grabbing and kissing a fellow member of the Finnish parliament, he heads for the EU assembly bearing a message that the global women’s #MeToo movement is “a load of baloney”.

Some new arrivals made names before politics: Germany’s “The Party” party adds a second comedian to its existing roster of one MEP; Austria’s Greens are sending Sarah Wiener, who is more famous across German-speaking Europe as a gourmet TV chef.

No stranger, too, to televisual celebrity is Ann Widdecombe, once a British Conservative minister and campaigner for Catholic religious morality and against some gay rights. In retirement, she found fame on a TV ballroom dancing show and “Celebrity Big Brother” – losing that contest last year to a drag queen.

Widdecombe, 71, is among 29 MEPs who will sit – for a few months at least, until Britain carries out its vexed plan to leave the EU – for the new Brexit Party of Nigel Farage, a vocal critic of, and fixture in, the EU parliament since 1999.

Less enamoured of video, probably, another new entrant is set to be Heinz-Christian Strache. Austria’s vice-chancellor until May 10 days ago, when a covert film of him offering favours to a supposed Russian oligarch’s niece went online, Strache is in line for one of his far-right Freedom Party’s seats, according to local media.

(Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Brussels, Luke Baker in Paris, Michael Shields in Vienna, Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, Ingrid Melander in Madrid, Niklas Pollard in Stockholm, Michele Kambas in Athens, Marcin Goclowski in Warsaw and Rene Wagner in Berlin; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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