Candidates for the European Parliament The Rich, the Odd and the Beautiful

Many have a hard time finding enthusiasm for the European Parliament elections. But they should pay more attention to the colorful array of candidates on offer. From millionaires to machos, blue bloods to bombshells, next week's vote has it all.

Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul and Italy's prime minister, wanted to line up some "fresh faces" for the 2009 European parliamentary elections. More specifically, he was thinking of showcasing a host of attractive young women, including professional showgirls and a participant on the Italian version of "Big Brother" known throughout the country for her skimpy outfits. As he saw it, these individuals would bring youth and glamour to his center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party. But then Berlusconi's wife, Veronica Lario, got fed up with his flaunting of young femininity and publicly denounced both him and the "shamelessness of power." So, Berlusconi dropped the plan for running with a whole team of young women.

The only one to survive the cut was Barbara Matera. Blonde, well-proportioned and once a top "Miss Italia" contestant, the 27-year old star and TV presenter can be found in quite a few YouTube movies. She's also said to be refreshingly inexperienced in the world of politics.

That's something that can't be said for certain about Elena Basescu. This 28-year-old has already logged some hours in Brussels, as a trainee with a MP from the party of her father, Traian Basescu, the president of Romania. Elena works as a model, has a reputation for being a party girl and, according to the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, is "known for a checkered love life." Thanks in part to her appearance -- hip-length hair and a pouty mouth -- the media likes to refer to her as the "Romanian Paris Hilton." In response to critics who say she doesn't have to intellectual firepower needed to represent her country in the European Parliament, her father counters that Elena is "much cleverer than people think."

Brains is not an issue when it comes to Rachida Dati, France's glamour-star addition to the candidates' list. Dati studied economics and law before working in the business world and a prosecutor's office. Her career took off in 2002, when she landed a job in the office of then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. When he was elected president, the tap on the shoulder came, and she became the justice minister.

Not everyone in the Ministry of Justice was happy about the choice. Shortly after Dati's arrival, the office manager and several other leading employees cleared their desks. And it would be quite a stretch to say that Dati -- the Catholic-school-educated, 43-year-old beauty of North African descent -- has done much to bring succor to the ailing French justice system. Any headlines she has garnered usually have more to do with high expenses and haughty appearances.

When Dati gave birth to a daughter on January 2, all of France was watching. Adding mystery to the event was the fact that Dati refused to identify the child's father, saying instead: "My private life is complicated." Now there is speculation in the French media that President Nicolas Sarkozy is hoping to get rid of the problematic politician -- by shipping her off to Brussels.

There, Dati might just cross paths with Gabriele Pauli, who was once Germany's youngest district administrator. Pauli has been famous in Germany since 2007, when she publicly criticized Edmund Stoiber, then Bavaria's governor, and set in motion a chain of events that ended in his resignation as head of the Christian Social Union party, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. Pauli benefited from that run-in. Soon thereafter, her image was splashed across the cover of a magazine wrapped in the Bavarian flag, wearing latex gloves and a lusty expression. Now she's running as a candidate for the European Parliament for the Free Voters, a minor conservative party in Bavaria -- her most difficult job yet.

It's not just strong women that are suddenly jostling for seats in the parliament, that little-loved though not completely obscure body that meets some weeks in Brussels and some in Strasbourg, France. The male candidates on the roster also include some colorful and dazzling figures. There's the 48-year-old Swede Christian Engström, the front-runner for the Pirate Party, which has been fighting to liberate the Internet from government control and intervention. A verdict that imposed fines and prison sentences on the operators of the wildly successful Internet file-sharing site "Pirate Bay" made the Pirate Party popular. Founded in 2006 as a protest party, it has grown so strong that it's now the third-largest party in Sweden, according to polls. Engström should have no trouble making it to Brussels.

Once there, the Swedish mathematician might be able to have a chat with the 60-year-old Czech politician Vladimir Remek, for example, the first non-Russian cosmonaut in space. But starting up a conversation with his Nordic neighbor Ari Vatanen, from Finland, might prove a bit more challenging. A four-time winner of the Dakar Rally, the 57-year old Vatanen is a conservative Christian Democrat known for his economy of words. Indeed, it's hard to imagine that the former Czech cosmonaut, the Swedish "pirate" and the Finnish rally driver will have much in common to discuss.

Vatanen might get along better with Emanuele Filiberto Umberto Reza Ciro René Maria di Savoia, the 36-year-old grandson of Italy's last king and prince of Venice and Piedmont. The heir to Italy's defunct throne is also running on a Christian Democratic ticket, although in his case it's with one of the small parties carrying on the legacy of the once mighty "Democrazia Cristiana" party, which was brought down in the early 1990s by a wave of corruption allegations.

As di Savoia boasted at a recent press conference, he speaks five languages, knows half of Europe's heads of state personally -- and is related to the other half. And the leaders of his party are quick to confirm that he is "an extraordinary and very capable person."

Still, so far, the prince hasn't had the greatest success in his professional and political life. In fact, he seems to have had a bit of bad luck -- as well as difficult moments -- with some of his partners, friends and employees. One got entangled in a blackmail scandal involving young showgirls, another is being investigated for tax evasion and fraud, and a third was arrested on suspicion of being involved in mafia activities.


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