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Austrian eurosceptic Martin scores big in European election

Vienna — With an Austrian tabloid for support but no party machine behind him, Hans-Peter Martin will take a growing band of eurosceptics to the European Parliament.

An indefatigable denouncer of scandals, Martin won 17.9 percent of votes, just behind the ruling conservatives and Social Democrats — and ahead of the far-right Freedom Party of Heinz-Christian Strache, a young firebrand sceptic — to get a third term in the parliament he loves to hate.

His score was 3.9 percent up from the 2004 election and Martin will this time lead three deputies to the parliament.

First elected in 1999 as a Social Democrat, Hans-Peter Martin, or HPM to his fans, was re-elected in 2004 as an independent before heading the Hans-Peter Martin list this time around.

A eurosceptic to the bone, Martin has campaigned against powerful lobbies, power-grabbing elites and wasteful European institutions, while positioning himself as a defender of the people and an alternative to the far-right.

Denouncing "in-bred Brussels", the 51-year-old Martin, who hails from the western town of Bregenz, has appealed especially to Austrians’ fear of losing their identity in the European wilderness.

He has opposed the EU’s reforming Lisbon Treaty and Turkey’s entry into the European Union, calling for EU-wide referendums on the topics, and has offered to use some of his EU money to help young people find jobs and support others "hit by the economic crisis".

A former journalist for the German weekly Der Spiegel, working as a correspondent in Latin America and later heading the Vienna bureau, Martin has received tremendous media backing, especially from Kronen Zeitung, the most widely read newspaper in Austria.

Already in 2004, after a dispute with the Social Democrats, Martin won 14 percent of the vote with the tabloid’s help.

He was a regular feature of the newspaper in the run-up to Sunday’s vote, with excerpts from his book, "The Europe trap" (Europafalle), printed every day in Kronen Zeitung.

Described by a former ally as "a mix between overconfidence and madness", Martin has made enemies in Brussels and Strasbourg, revealing details from confidential talks and publishing pictures made with a secret camera.

In 2007, he was also accused by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) of misuse of funds allocated to his office.

His answer was that this was simply an error of form. He was a victim of a "political intrigue," he said.