Brussels beware — there’s a new kid on the block.
Volt Europa, a new pan-European progressive movement that aims to radically reform Europe, is running for office. Its short-term goal is to obtain 25 seats in the upcoming European elections — the threshold figure that would enable it to create the first transnational party in the European Parliament, rather than join an existing coalition.
But its founder, 27-year-old Andrea Venzon, says it’s about more than just politics:
“We are trying to create a grassroots citizen movement, applying pressure from the bottom to reform Europe and improve our societies. Though the European elections are our first electoral challenge, our scope is much broader.”
Venzon founded Volt with a university friend, Colombe Cohen-Salvador, during the aftermath of Brexit. Like many educated pro-Europe millennials, the two were shocked by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.
Above all, Volt seems to be a reaction to the populist and eurosceptic wave that has swept over the continent in recent years.
Since then, Volt has acquired thousands of members and volunteers and a solid presence in virtually all of the EU member states.
Like many unconventional political parties in recent years, Volt frames itself as a “movement” rather than a political party. The majority of its members do not come from politics — Venzon himself worked as a consultant before developing his political aspirations — and, similar to Macron’s En Marche! in France, or Cuidadanos in Spain, Volt’s program reflects a mishmash of right and left-wing policies. Its goal is to transcend the traditional right-left divide and usher in the new era of European politics.
“Volt is about pragmatic and rational politics, led by experts who provide concrete solutions”, says Venzon.
Above all, Volt seems to be a reaction to the populist and eurosceptic wave that has swept over the continent in recent years. As one article recently put it, Volt is a “declaration of love to the EU by a group of young dreamers”.
But what lies behind the dream of a united Europe?
Q&A: Andrea Venzon, founder of Volt Europa
“Europe has a common identity and we should act accordingly”
– Andrea Venzon
KH: What is Europe’s greatest weakness?
AV: “We don’t act like one entity: we’re just the sum of multiple states, each with their own national interests. You see this every day in the functioning of the EU, and it’s logical, because the voting procedures and the issues debated in the European Parliament are still national. But what is lacking is the willingness to manage problems as a single voice — big problems, like migration and trade. When Europe does manage to act as one, there are really good results. You see it for example with Trump’s trade tariffs recently: Europe acted together, with Merkel and Macron delivering the same strong message, and it was effective, at least for the time being. We can contrast this with migration, on the other hand, where each member state is focusing on its own neighbourhood. It’s not working. The big challenge in Europe is to understand that we have a common identity, and that we should act accordingly.”
KH: Let’s talk policy for a second. At the European level, Volt wants: a common asylum and immigration policy, a real European security & defense policy, a Europe-wide taxation system, and even a European employment office. Maybe it’s time we started talking about the F-word… What would the benefits of a United States of Europe be?
AV: “I don’t like the ‘federalist’ label. As a movement, our goal is to integrate Europe in key areas. A Federation might be the end goal, or it might be a different set-up. Either way, the benefit of more integration is, first of all, having more leverage: the budget at our disposal and the state power that we can move as a Union is so much bigger than what we can do as a single nation-state. So if we want to compete with global powers, or manage large crises, scale is key.
Then there’s also best-practice sharing. As we all know, there’s such a wealth of great policies all over Europe that are currently confined to a single state. I’m thinking of the public administration system in Denmark, or healthcare in France, or education in the Nordic states. These models could be scaled up and adopted in countries that need to improve their systems. At the moment, this isn’t happening because there are national boundaries, and national politicians are constrained in saying ‘I would really love to copy the Germans.’ In a united Europe this best-practice sharing would be much easier.”
KH: You’re probably tired of this question, but I’m going to go ahead and ask it anyway: Volt isn’t the only pan-European political movement out there, is it? Because Yanis Varoufakis — the former Greek Minister of Finance, and a virulent critic of the political establishment in Brussels — started his own Pan-European movement, called Diem25, in 2016. What is it that distinguishes Volt from Diem25?
AV: “You’re right, I am tired of this question (laughs). It’s good that other actors are doing something similar to us, because it means we [Volt] are moving in the right direction, historically speaking. At the same time, our method is different. We are a fully democratic movement, so we don’t have a famous figure leading it. We are normal citizens, trying to take responsibility, rather than career politicians, so this is the first big distinction.
“Secondly, the way we are building the movement is completely different. Diem25 started in Greece and then decided to start creating alliances in other countries, so they created the EuropeanSpring (an assembly of other national parties, such as Generation S in France) who form an alliance with Diem25, but will still run for the elections separately.
Volt, on the other hand, is one large political party all over Europe, with a common identity and a common set of policies.”
KH: Why this approach?
AV: “People do not feel connected to European politics for many reasons, but also simply because the parties are called different. You ask people what ALDE (the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) is and they don’t know, because they only vote for national parties. We’re trying to change that.
KH: Any other differences?
AV: On the policy side, we are also different from Diem25: we share a similar direction on reforming the EU, but we are less radical on certain issues, and we are truly transnational. As far as I know, Diem25 doesn’t do that yet. It only proposes national solutions.”
KH: Is it up to our generation — millennials who travel and speak several languages — to build a new Europe, or do you think everyone can be included? Is Volt mostly a youth movement, or do you think it will benefit all generations?
AV: “We will fail if we only tap into millennials. The curse of other European movements in the past has been that they didn’t manage to get out of the EU bubble and their liberal intellectual circles. That’s why we target people in their own language, at the local level. For example, we don’t spend a lot of money on digital campaigning. Instead, we try to do things at the local level, with events in small towns as well as big cities, every week. It’s the only way to make this movement really representative of society. We are not only present in Berlin, Milan and Paris — we are also present in Sicily, northern Germany and the Polish countryside.”
KH: Is there is such a thing as a common European identity?
AV: “I think we all have a European identity. You see it all over Europe. The problem is often the language barrier, which we can overcome by being on the ground and realizing that, even if we don’t speak the same language, we might share the same vision.”
KH: Volt believes in “pragmatic and rational politics, led by experts who provide concrete solutions.” To me this sounds a little bit technocratic. Do you ever worry that it will be difficult to appeal to voters with rational arguments, especially when you’re competing with politicians who have zero interest in being pragmatic or rational. What is the way to beat populists and demagogues?
AV: “It’s difficult — many politicians use feelings and emotions to express policies. We have good, sound policies, but the trick to win the elections is to communicate clearly and not position ourselves as technocrats. But also by crowdsourcing ideas: when we get a policy proposal from an expert, we organize a local event and ask different stakeholders for their opinion. During these citizen dialogues, we ask them what they think, whether it works for them, or whether it is just some professor’s intellectual dream.”
KH: How are you going to choose your candidates for the European Parliament?
AV: “Good question. We’re looking into a model of transnational primaries. One of our proposals is to select candidates transnationally. So, for example, a French candidate will be voted in by all member of all countries, and so forth for each member country.”
KH: I read somewhere that you initially wanted to reform politics in your home country, but then you instead decided to take it to the European level. What are your thoughts on the recent elections in Italy?
AV: “Italy is in a really, really difficult state. We still haven’t reached any political stability. The negotiations are two months in, and we might go to the polls again, but there’s no certainty of producing a stable outcome. Since Italy became a Republic seventy years ago, we’ve had more than seventy governments. This instability hampers economic growth, but also the establishment of a social safety net.
“Secondly, there is clearly a rejection of politics: people do not only vote more extremely, but they vote less. This will be a hard hit for the European elections in 2019, and I really hope that Volt will manage to bring young people to the polls, especially since it’s such a crucial election this time.”
KH: How can Europe become “sexy” again in the eyes of European citizens and rid itself of its image as a ‘technocratic tyranny’?
AV: “That’s the million dollar question. First of all, let’s avoid slacking. We should cut down on bureaucracy, because resources are being wasted. Think of the internal translations of all documents, or having three seats in the EU (switching from Strasbourg to Brussels). We should make Europe more efficient.
“But, more importantly, Europe should be more present in the life of citizens. This means intervening to help people on the ground; that’s why I believe Europe is loved in Spain, because Spain has profited a lot from EU support. The fact that the EU has a big budget means it can change the life of regions and certain segments of the population, but it’s not happening on a large enough scale, in terms of investment programs and opportunities.”