Eight new members of the European Parliament to watch

From climate activists to race car drivers, here is a selection of first-time MEPs with colourful past careers.
Cypriot YouTuber and TikToker Fidias Panayiotou says he will continue using social media in his new job as a member of the European Parliament.

By Sarah Schug

Sarah is a staff writer for The Parliament with a focus on art, culture, and human rights.

20 Jun 2024

When Europeans went to the polls in early June, they largely voted for the status quo. Centrist parties – led by the centre-right European People’s Party – will continue to dominate the European Parliament, even as the far right made noteworthy gains that could have significant policy implications.   

Of the 720 members of the EP who will serve in the next term starting in mid-July, many are newly elected MEPs from across the political spectrum.   

From climate activists and race car drivers to internet pranksters and former ship captains, the next European Parliament will feature many first-time lawmakers with colourful past careers. Here are eight new MEPs to watch during the upcoming mandate.  

Carola Rackete, Germany 

Long-time social justice activist and trained ecologist Carola Rackete, lead candidate for Germany's Left party, is a household name in both her home country and Italy due to her involvement with sea rescue organisation Sea-Watch. In 2019, she was arrested and later released for landing a group of refugees rescued in the Mediterranean on Lampedusa, defying then interior minister Matteo Salvini’s decision to close the country’s ports to humanitarian vessels. In a statement accompanying the announcement of her MEP candidacy, the former ship captain wrote: “I believe that movements striving for justice cannot afford to ignore state institutions.” 

Lena Schilling, Austria 

At 23 years old, Lena Schilling, the top candidate for the Austrian Green Party, is the youngest incoming MEP. In the run-up to the elections, the former youth climate activist found herself at the centre of a weeks-long media storm over private text messages in which she allegedly wrote that she “hated no one as much as the Greens.” Schilling ran on a platform focusing on democracy, climate and equality. “I want to go with you to where the important decisions are being made,” she wrote about her decision to run for the European Parliament.  

Ilaria Salis, Italy 

Ilaria Salis, an Italian activist and teacher, was released from house arrest in Budapest a few days after the elections as a result of her new immunity as an incoming MEP. Accused of assaulting far-right activists at a neo-Nazi rally in an anti-fascist counter-demonstration in Hungary, she was detained in prison for over a year. Her case gained significant media attention and caused diplomatic strains between Hungary and Italy when she appeared in a local courtroom handcuffed and shackled. Salis, who reportedly was also mistreated in prison, ran as a candidate for the Green and Left Alliance party, which won about 6.8% of the Italian vote. The party described her candidacy as an attempt “to protect the rights and dignity of a European citizen.” 

Afroditi Latinopoulou, Greece 

After she was kicked out of the centre-right New Democracy in 2022 over disparaging comments she made about obese people, Afroditi Latinopoulou founded her own party: The Voice of Reason. A lawyer and former professional tennis player, she is the party’s only elected MEP. She ran on an anti-abortion and anti-immigration platform. On her website, she calls for “the end of woke paranoia” and the repeal of “the unacceptable law that same-sex couples can marry and adopt children.” 

Rima Hassan, France 

Rima Hassan is the first French-Palestinian to be elected to the European Parliament. An international law expert, she was elected for the French left-wing party La France Insoumise. Hassan was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, arriving in France aged nine and stateless, and only gained French citizenship when she turned 18. In 2019 she founded the NGO Refugee Camps Observatory. Over the last months, she frequently made headlines with appearances in the French media in which she defended her pro-Palestinian perspective. 

Fidias Panayiotou, Cyprus 

Despite running as an independent, Fidias Panayiotou managed to finish third, winning 19.4% of the popular vote in Cyprus. The 24-year-old YouTuber and TikTokker rose to fame with videos in which he begged for money on the streets of Japan so he could buy train tickets, and taught viewers how to eat for free in hotels. He has also posted videos in which he can be seen hugging 100 celebrities, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In an interview with a local Cypriot TV station, the prankster and internet personality admitted that he had never cast a vote, knew little about politics or the EU institutions, but could no longer stomach the continued rule of “nerds” in Brussels. 

Filip Turek, Czech Republic 

A former racecar driver, Filip Turek won a seat in the hemicycle as a member of the Motorists Alliance, which teamed up with the protest party Oath for the EU elections. With 10.3% of the vote, the coalition came in third in the Czech Republic. Turek’s Eurosceptic group, which is not represented in the Czech national parliament, defends the rights of car owners and campaigned on reversing an EU plan to ban combustion engine cars by 2035. Turek is currently being investigated by the Czech police over photos in which he posed with Nazi memorabilia. He has also been photographed wearing a golden helmet emblazoned with the insignia of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn movement.  

Petras Gražulis, Lithuania 

Petras Gražulis lost his seat in the Lithuanian national parliament after being caught casting a vote for another lawmaker at the end of last year. While he was barred from running for the Seimas for a 10-year period over the incident, he was free to make a bid for the European Parliament and was elected for the People and Justice Union in June. Gražulis has had other run-ins with the law. A court case centred on incendiary statements he made about representatives of the LGBTQI community is pending before a Lithuanian court. It is unclear how Gražulis’ future legal immunity as an MEP will affect the proceedings. 

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