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Volt: How a Transnational Movement Aims to Change Europe

Nationalism, Populism, Brexit. Right now, the European Union is not having the greatest time. Voices against the EU are becoming louder and are turning more aggressive.  Under these conditions, elections for the EU parliament are going to happen from May 23 to 26.

Enter Volt. The movement was started two years ago by Andrea Venzon (Italy) Damian Boeselager (Germany), and Colombe Cahen-Salvador (France). Since then it has gained momentum all over Europe.

Volt stands for new energy for Europe. The idea is clear. Instead of nationalism Europe needs more collaboration. Instead of turning inwards the EU member states should work on pan-European solutions to topics that affect all of us.

Now Volt is a registered party in 11 EU member states and is running for parliament. The ambitious goal is to get 25 candidates from seven countries elected into the EU Parliament, so the party can form its own group. But even if this does not work out on the first try, Anna Gallinat (Comms Lead) and Cathal Kerins (Treasurer) from Volt Ireland are optimistic that Volt will continue to grow stronger.

Now Volt is active in 32 European countries, more than there actually are EU member states. Total membership is about 30,000 people with 3,000 in active roles. The movement gained 5,000 members just over the last few months.

In Ireland, Volt started in September 2018. It took a moment to take off but now there are groups in Dublin and Galway working towards getting registered as an official party. This process will not be finished before the EU elections, but Volt is already planning for the next general elections in Ireland.

Volt Ireland meeting in Dublin. Topic of the day was Brexit. Photo: Volt Éire Team

The reasons for people to join vary but at the heart is the idea to collaboratively find solutions to the challenges of our time.

Anna joined because she really believes in the pan-European idea, gender equality, and the need to act on climate change. All topics that are addressed in the party programme. Added to that was a feeling of being fed up by “traditional” mainstream politics.

Anna says that she strongly believes in democracy and the need to vote. Thus, instead of opting out of voting she joined Volt. For her and many others in the movement it is the first time to become politically active and involved in a party.

Cathal was not motivated by any political party in Ireland. He wants international solutions to topics such as migration and climate change as these issues do not stop at boarders. Another factor that pushed him to become involved in politics was the rise of Donald Trump and populism.

Quoting Edmund Burke, Cathal says “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”. He is referring to ‘slacktivism’, people who post online about what is going wrong in society but do not translate words into action. Cathal joined Volt to get up and do something for how he thinks the world should be.

Volt wants more power for the EU Parliament and closer collaboration on an EU level. Photo: Volt Éire Team

The general idea behind Volt is to make Europe a better, healthier, equal, and sustainable place to live in. The national chapters all refer back to the European party programme but break it down to national priorities and policies. In this way, Volt works from the other direction compared to other factions on an EU level.

Traditionally, members of national parties are elected to the EU parliament and form a group with candidates from other parties that have roughly the same political ideals. If Volt members make it to the EU parliament, they all have run with the same party programme no matter which member state they are from.

Volt Ireland is deeply concerned with the housing crisis and the support of disadvantaged people which is part of the social equality and sustainability aspect of the Volt programme.

Other topics include a universal basic income and creating investment to promote innovation, research and development.

Cathal says that Volt is taking social and economic considerations into account to find solutions as both are needed for a progressive and sustainable future. The idea is to look at what works well in one member state and find a way to apply it to other states.

Volt is a young party both from a membership and existence perspective. The average age of party members is 34 years. But Cathal says that while the party is young it is not a party exclusively for young people. He took part in the first international congress held by Volt in Rome in March 2019 and he says many elderly people attended and are running for the party.

Anna says that one of the reasons why she joined Volt was the fact that Volt acts on its own policies. The party does what it preaches. For example, gender equality is not an empty promise. At party panels, speakers are 50 per cent male and 50 per cent female. The same goes for party lists.

The party is also deeply concerned with transparency. All donations to the party exceeding 3000€ are published on the party website within 15 days upon receipt. Anonymous donations exceeding 100€ will be returned, or, if that is not possible, donated.

This whole idea of learning from each other and following ideals is what attracts people to the party. Most members have not been politically involved before. So, there is still a learning process going on.

Volt Ireland is in the process of building a structure, running meetings, events, and broadening their reach on social media. Members bring in their passion and knowledge, but it is the international network that pushes things forward. Volt can rely on the experience of its national chambers that new groups can draw from to grow.

In this sense Volt is living its idea of European collaboration.

The international set up is the biggest strength of Volt. Cathal wants the EU to be more ambitious and hopes for more confidence in each other among the member states. He says: “you can’t fight nationalism with a different kind of nationalism”.

In Ireland Volt has just gained its 40th member. Anna and Cathal hope many more will join. The group is made up from people of different nationalities. Meetings and events are announced on social media.

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