1. How would you describe your political/leadership style in three words?
Grassroots - I am an activist and a campaigner, so I work closely with NGOs and civil society, and try to ensure the voice of citizens - particularly those that are marginalised and vulnerable - is heard in Parliament.
Empathetic - I founded an artists’ collective that used theatre for personal and community transformation so I learned to stand in other people’s shoes. It is important to listen and learn, and not simply make grandiose speeches.
Fearless - I am not a career politician looking for the next step. I am forthright, for example taking on the Iranian foreign minister regarding his country’s appalling human rights record. I am also prepared to challenge and expose the racists, xenophobes, misogynists, and Brexiteers who stir up hate.
2. Is there anything you have personally achieved or done that would surprise people?
I didn’t go to university until I was 52, as I failed all my exams as a teenager, which meant I went to work in a factory. I ended up doing a Masters in education and international development as a mature student and I remain a passionate advocate of lifelong learning.
3. What one item would you save from your home in the event of fire?
A leather document case discovered after my grandfather died, which contained letters, newspaper clippings and documents. It detailed a family tragedy in western Australia in the 1920s when my grandfather’s brother accidentally blew up his wife and mother. My grandfather never talked about the incident. I made a visit to western Australia to unravel the mystery and found the unmarked grave of my great grandmother.
4. What do you do to relax and unwind?
I love to swim - indoors, outdoors, in rivers, lakes, the sea and swimming pools, in all weathers, all year round. I use the outdoor public pool opposite the Parliament in Strasbourg during plenary week and I recently had a dip in the frozen Baltic in Helsinki. I also love to dance, for example at the ILGA Equality Gala every year.
5. What is the most humbling thing you have experienced in your career?
Last summer I spent 12 days in Amazonia volunteering with a community arts project. I met with several indigenous tribes that are victims of state repression and corporate greed. I was given an Amazon name and spoke in the Brazilian Parliament giving testimonials. As a result, 30 Xikrin people are coming to press their case in the European Parliament in June.
For more 5Qs, get to know Maria Arena.