The Forum Podcast: European Elections Special with Volt’s Colombe Cahen-Salvador
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On the podcast, we will be conducting a series of interviews with Thought Leaders on and about Europe. On our first episode, we welcome Colombe Cahen-Salvador, from the pan-European party Volt, to discuss the upcoming European elections, key topics for the EU, proposed reforms for European institutions, the role that tech can play in public life in Europe, and more.
1: #1: European Elections Special: Interview with Volt's Colombe Cahen Salvador
For the first episode of the Forum podcast, we had the opportunity to ask a few questions to Colombe Cahen-Salvador…
You will find below a full transcript of the interview.
Colombe Cahen-Salvador, thank you for joining us on the Forum podcast. You are co-founder and policy lead of the pan-European movement Volt Europa. You dedicated your life to Europe and its future. Did you have a first “European moment” that triggered and motivated you on this?
Colombe Cahen-Salvador: Thank you very much for having me. I had a first “European moment” indeed. I never thought much about Europe until Brexit, I was lucky enough to be able to study in the UK, and I understood that I benefited from Europe in some ways. I was able to study abroad, to move , and so on. But I never thought about it beyond this. And when Brexit happened, I had to reconsider my life: I didn’t know whether I would stay in the UK, move abroad. I then realised that no one was actually fighting for the Europe that was actually helping me live the life I lived, and for my rights. Obviously there was a main movement in the UK, but Europe-wide there was nothing. This is when it struck us. At the time it was Andrea, who is Italian, Damian who is German, and me, I’m French. We realised we had many things in common, we faced similar problems, whether talking about unemployment, affordable housing, etc. But there was no real European party. We decided that instead of simply complaining, it was time to actually do something about it. Many people when we talked about the idea of building something new told us ‘but you have so many political parties in the EU, how about joining one back home?’. Everyone asked me ‘Why don’t you join ‘En Marche’ or something similar?’. It struck us: not only did we need to build a pan european party, something with a similar structure that actually does politics together which has never really existed before but also doing it in a different way. I was 22, I’m a woman, before having a real voice in politics in France, I could have waited extremely long. Often new participants have to sit at the back of a room, are not able to vote on policies, let alone propose policies. This is when we decide that we wanted to change the way we do politics, we wanted to make it accessible, inclusive, and give everyone a voice. And we wanted to build a new type of political party that is truly European in the way we do things, in our policies, and that is declined at the national and local level. This is how we created Volt, and this was my trigger moment. Two years later, we are now in 32 countries, so we go beyond the EU. We have 25,000 subscribers who build the movement every single day. It is not a movement made of a few experts, but of citizens who bring it forward. We are running for the European elections in 8 countries.
Volt is a true pan-European movement then. How you seek to implement change in the way national politics deal with main issues for Europeans but also on a European level. Which does not tend to happen that much. To support this mission, the manifesto for Volt has five overarching objectives. Can you tell us what they are?
From the very beginning it was really important for us to base Volt on content. Too often now we see that politics are done on emotions without facts. Don’t get me wrong, emotions are extremely important, they convey an important message, to get your point across. But often, especially in European politics, content is lacking. At the beginning, we defined five plus one challenges, those are kind of administrative separations to create content:
I. The first one is that we want to create a smart state, we want to ensure that the state is truly at the service of citizens, that we use new technologies in a smart way, and so on.
II. The second challenge is to have an economic renaissance, to make sure that every European, and every citizen has access to the highest potential standard of living, and that we have an economic growth that is sustainable.
III. The third challenge is social equality, we want to ensure that everyone’s human rights are respected, and that no one is left behind.
IV. The fourth challenge is that we want to strike a global balance, obviously we are a European movement, but there are global trends that affect Europe and go beyond Europe, such as climate change, migration, and so on, and we can only answer to those together.
V. The fifth challenge is citizen empowerment, this is really at the core of Volt, we aim to make citizens participate every day in politics, and we believe that this should be the case at the European, national and local level, citizens need to have a voice beyond elections. And I don’t mean direct democracy, but measures of participatory democracy.
VI. Then we have the ‘plus one’, and the reason for the ‘plus one’ is that this is something that only applies to the European Union and not to the national and local level, which is the reform of the EU. We are obviously pro-European, but we believe that many things need to be fixed and improved so that we can grow stronger together.
So this is how we started, by having five plus one challenges, we developed guidelines under each that are then adapted at the national and local level. What we have found is that is it completely possible to find common grounds between different countries and to create common guidelines.
The way we do it is very interesting, I’m not very objective because I am the policy lead, but we developed a process to enable us to come up with common solutions and common guidelines in more than 32 countries with people from every age group and background. Any member can propose a policy, as long as it meets three basic checks:
1.It has to be based on best practices if they exist. We do not need to reinvent everything, or to pretend that we have incredible new solutions for everything. Good solutions already exist, have been tested out, and we can use them. For example, if we talk about gender equality, Germany has quotas on the boards of publicly listed companies, which work extremely well. This is a measure that we can use in other countries and at the European level to reach gender equality.
2. We have to use evidence, preferably scientific evidence if available. I know it sounds basic, but in today’s politics it’s very needed.
3. We have values check. Volt is based on the values of human rights, international law and sustainability, so no policy proposed can go against those.
The reasons for which we did this, is that when we created Volt we wanted to give a voice to everyone but we also spoke to a lot of existing parties to try and understand how they did things well, and how they did less so. We saw that when you give everyone a voice there is also a potential of outside influence on the party, with lots of new members being able to propose extreme policies and for the party to go more in an extreme direction. So we wanted to ensure with those three checks that we would stay fact-based and within our own boundaries. We create the five plus one challenges, we now have 300 pages of policies that show that we can have common solutions in every area of life. Our team has started adapting those to the local level. For example, we ran a test election in Belgium for the municipal elections, and the teams have implemented those policies at the local level.
And after this we developed also a program for the European elections. So this is quite interesting, we are actually the first party that has a real program and I don’t mean just a manifesto which most European groups and National parties do for the European elections saying ‘we want a more green Europe, a more federal Europe’. But we actually have a detailed program with what we commit to, how we can do it and which funds we can do it with. And all of our countries are campaigning with this program, which is called ‘The Amsterdam Declaration’.
You are full-on campaigning at the moment, with the elections coming up. Could you take us behind the scenes and tell us what it looks like, what it involves, this true pan european campaign that you’re leading with Volt?
It’s really interesting. For me it’s the first time taking part in a campaign. But it’s also the first campaign of its kind. We are campaigning in eight countries right now for the European elections, with one program. This has really been a test. We’ve seen that people have been answering very well to it and that we can answer to most people’s concerns with this program, which is great. And we’re testing different campaigning methods across the continent. So one of the things with Volt, is that we hyper local. So we never wanted to be just in Paris, London, Berlin, Sofia and Bucharest. But we want to be all across the continent, to really be able to activate citizens and to get them involved in politics, whether it’s at the local, national or European level. We are in more than 500 cities at the moment and we’re still growing, our campaign is very local. We have city teams in those eight countries that participate every weeks in meet ups — basically meet ups are events we do on the ground, everywhere, every week — where you can meet candidates, debate policies, talk about Europe, talk about you. We also have pan-European actions. For example, I think it was in March I participated in an open border match between France, Luxembourg and Germany in Schengen. We wanted to protest against the fact that seven countries have now reinstated border controls in Europe and to show that it’s extremely important for us to keep open borders considering our history and the incredible advantage this has shown us. We had more than 70 Volters, this is what we call our members, who came to Schengen and walked through the free borders. This is one of the pan-European actions we conducted, and we are continuing to test different ones on the ground everywhere. For example, our German team just did a Volt festival with debates, you also had yoga classes, and a bus tour of Germany that started at the same time. We have lots of new actions taking place. Members are proposing new ones every day and testing them out. We are seeing what actually works. But the core of our campaign is the fact that we are campaigning on one program. So whether you’re voting for a Volt candidate in Bulgaria, Sweden or Luxembourg, they will work with the same policies, which is a real game changer when you think about it because it’s never been the case. Parliamentarians are supposed to represent Europeans yet they often campaign on a national platform, then form an alliance and go into group with national parties that have different national interests. For us, we are all campaigning on the same policies and are ready to fight for them in the European Parliament.
What about the work and the campaigning you recently started in the UK, in particular following what is happening at the moment, and still unfolding, with Brexit?
We are actually campaigning in London for the European elections. In the UK it’s a bit different, you have constituencies. You have to propose lists or independent candidates for one or a few constituencies. We are extremely happy to be able to do it because obviously Volt started as a result of Brexit. It wasn’t the only trigger but it was definitely the first one. And for the UK team who feels extremely strongly about it. It’s important to be able to pass a pro-European message but also one with a concrete project. Because right now of course those elections came a bit by surprise, no one knew exactly what was going to happen. And parties and candidates had a month to campaign and to put out a campaign, so it’s really hard. But most parties don’t actually have a project they have a pro-EU versus anti-EU or pro-Brexit versus anti-Brexit type of discourse, but none have a concrete project. And the thing is if the UK doesn’t get out of the EU before July parliamentarians will have the option to sit in the European Parliament for the next five years. So they will be able to shape policies for the EU for the next five years. Obviously we would prefer to have pro-EU MEPs in the Parliament. But regardless we need to have some with a project that will actually bring Europe forward, and not only to say that they are pro or anti-Europe. So we’re running in the London constituency with an independent candidate, Andrea who’s also one of the founders of Volt. And we very much hope to be able to pass our pro-European message and policies.
You and your co-founders have said that European citizens should have the ability to directly vote for those members of Parliament, to know who they are, specifically for these parliamentarians to be able to elect a European government led by a European prime minister-like figure. What would that look like?
Just a quick clarification: actually it’s not me and my co-founders who said this. Volt members did. So one of the key elements of Volt is that we are very democratic and participative. What we say is only what members vote on and what they decide to put out. Members have crafted those policies that they then adopted, and now they constitute parts of our program. We do indeed want two of the things you just mentioned: One is linked to electing parliamentarians. We want to make it easier for European citizens to elect parliamentarians, and I’ll develop this in one second. The other one is to go more toward a federal Europe. So in the election of parliamentarians, what we want is basically to ensure fair representation of all EU citizens, and also to be able to strengthen the link between citizens and their representatives. The reasons for which we want this is that you have many issues right now with the current system. I can give you a few examples, but the way we elect parliamentarians differs widely from one country to another. Andrea who is running in London is Italian. In Italy, to become a candidate and to present a list, you need to gather 150000 signatures by hand, and with a notary present for every single signature. I mean, it’s almost an impossible task. In Germany on the other hand, you only have to gather 5000 signatures and you automatically on the ballot. In France, you have to print your on ballots as a party which is close to one million euros. And then, you also have different thresholds. In the UK you don’t have a threshold to get elected, you just need to gather enough signatures. In France, you have 5 percent. So either you elect four or five parliamentarians or zero. This means that in the way we elect parliamentarians, which differs drastically, we don’t actually manage to elect them the same way, right? So if in France I wanted to vote for Volt, there would be a way higher threshold and I wouldn’t necessarily be able to do it. Whereas in the U.K. I would be able to do it. So one of the first things we want to do is harmonise those voting rules, to one make them more democratic, but also to elect people the same way. For the same election, it’s extremely weird to elect people in a different manner from country to country. And it’s also extremely difficult as a result for European citizens to be able to do it. For example in London, and it’s the last example I will give I promise, European citizens wanting to vote for the European elections have to go through a procedure that sounds easy but it’s actually very cumbersome. They have to register, then they have to go online print a declaration explaining that they won’t vote in their home countries, and go on deposit it. And all of this within the span of two weeks. So we want to make sure that Europeans can vote the same way in a fair manner, that is representative. Then concerning a federal Europe. Volt is pro-European and we do want to go towards a federal Europe, we believe it’s the best way forward for all of us. So we want the members of the European Parliament who would have been elected, to themselves elect a European prime minister. This prime minister will head a federal cabinet of ministers and guide the day-to-day work of the European Union. So we basically, to make it a bit more simple, want to move towards more of a European government. It doesn’t mean that it will have to have all competences. It’s often when people get scared off when you talk about federal Europe. It just means that some competences are better placed at the European level, one because it actually save funds, and second because the EU is more equipped to deal with certain challenges. If you talk about defence and security for example, we have seen that intelligence sharing is absolutely key to protect ourselves, but that we don’t do it extremely well right now. And we also see that having separate national armies is way more expensive than it would be to have only one.
What would be needed for these reforms to come into action?
Do you mean what we would need to do on a legislative level?
Yes. What would European institutions at large need to do, implement or change to move towards a more federal Europe?
For the reform of the voting system, the European Parliament can propose the election of its members by direct universal suffrage, through a uniform procedure in all member states and then it has to be adopted by the European Council. I have it in front of me, so I can tell you, this is in article 223 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). Then basically the European Parliament would be able to submit such a proposal and it would include the reforms to have a unified voting system across the EU. For a European government which wants to go towards more of a federal Europe, we need to have a treaty change. The European Parliament has the right to propose an amendment to the Council to establish a new European Convention tasked with preparing a European Constitution for a federal Europe. Then legislative procedures can go into action. It’s not the easiest thing to do but it’s obviously something we need to start working on very soon. It’s not only about going more towards a federal Europe. So what you just asked was about voting rules and a federal government, but we want to reform the EU beyond this. I believe that before going towards a federal Europe we also need to fix many of the issues of the current system, before we can get closer together. For example, I don’t know if you’re aware but parliamentarians don’t have the right of legislative initiative, which in my opinion is insane. If you elect someone you expect them to be able to represent you. At the moment they can’t actually propose legislation that will go forward. They can the Commission to consider it, and they have other procedures but they don’t have this right. This is one of the many things we need to change. First, we want to reform the EU and then we want to move towards a more federal system.
Would you have the support, or is there any other European party, or a European coalition even, that supports the same precepts for reforming Europe?
The first thing is Volt has always aimed at being an independent group. To be an independent group in the European Parliament, you have to have more than twenty five MEPs some at least seven countries. We don’t think it will happen for our first election obviously, but we want to do it in the future. And this will enable us to push forward more proposals and to have more of a weight on our own. For this election, I do think that many groups see that there are big issues: in the Parliament for example some groups have been lobbying to abolish the rules of unanimity in the council. We want to do the same thing. So there is some willingness from parties and groups to reform the current system. How much of it will still exist after the elections, that’s still to be seen. I hope that Volt and other pro-European parties and movements will be able to have a considerable weight in the European Parliament. But one thing is sure is for us policies and content is key. We don’t just want to be elected to wave purple flags in the European Parliament. We want to be elected to push for our policies. We will work with whoever is willing to push forward those policies, to make sure that they actually happen.
In a time of increasing Euro skepticism, and beyond this, in times of increasing troubles around Europe, either with the ongoing discussions around Brexit, the yellow vest movement in France, the wave of populism and populists governments, How would you gauge the chances of progressive European enthusiasts like you are at Volt of moving into parliament?
We can see more and more EU scepticism across the EU which is very sad, but on the other hand you also see more and more young people willing and able to fight for what they believe in, and for progressive ideas. So we see it for example with the climate march, but we see it with more and more young people getting active in politics. So for me Volt is this exact example. Obviously if we didn’t have in front of us and such worrying movements I’m not sure whether it’s Brexit, nationalists and extremist parties and so on, we probably wouldn’t have created this in the first place. The fact that we created it is not because it’s a climate that’s completely favourable towards us it’s because we think that it’s absolutely needed and that we can’t wait to do it. We knew it would be hard but we’ve been extremely surprised and pleased with the number of people who respond positively to this message. So we have 20000 subscribers, we have 7000 people who work more than five hours a week on Volt to build it. And then we have thousands and thousands and thousands of volunteers who work a couple of hours a month for Volt. I’m just giving you those numbers to show that for people right now, there’s a sense of urgency and people are mobilising to change this. I can’t give you an exact number of what our chances are, of getting in each country in the European Parliament. But I think that we will elect a few people. I hope we will. And I think there is a sense across society that we need to act now. And that progressive movements like Volt, I believe, are the solution, when they are fact based which is the opposite of what the opposition does. And when they also manage to gather citizens and young citizens through passion, commitment and ideas.
What impact do you think Volt can have within the European Parliament post elections, if you have a sufficient number of representatives?
There are two sides to this. The first one is that we have already shown that a pan-European party can exist. So unfortunately the legal framework is complicated to navigate because the creation of political parties as ours at the European level is not transcribed into law. So it’s very complicated to create. But we have shown that it works in practice. That we can work together, that we can create policies together, that we can have concrete policies agreed upon before getting in the European Parliament. And that we can then transcribe this at the national and local level. This was one of the aims of Volt in the first place. To show that there’s another way forward. By showing that we as a pan-European political party will not only run for the European elections together, but then we will go for the municipal elections, regional and national elections. I hope that once in the EP and after this we’ll be able to inspire others to do the same. We want other European parties. We want the creation of other European parties. We want to make sure that others see that it’s possible and that this should be this way forward. So I think that this will be one of the things that we can do, once in the EP and just by our very model. The second one is passing the policies in the Amsterdam Declaration. The impact we want to have in the European Parliament is ensuring that we deliver on our program, that we fix the EU. So obviously fixing it is a very big project, but that we start passing measures to enable citizens to have a voice, that we create for example citizens assemblies in the EU to give citizens a say, engage them and give them trust in the institutions. That we give parliamentarians the right of legislative initiative. I want to make sure that we create, this is the second part of our program, an economic renaissance, that we don’t leave anyone behind. The EU, and it’s often forgotten, can have a huge impact at the national level on, for example, the creation of jobs. We want through EU funds to sponsor projects for example in southern Italy where young men have more than 50 percent of unemployment, to sponsor projects and infrastructures that will in turn create jobs. Then, and this is very close to my heart because I used to work in human rights, we guarantee rights for all. We see across the EU, rights being taken away and not being guaranteed, whether it’s towards LGBTIQ+ people, women, migrants or others. I want to make sure that the EU keeps its role and betters itself at it, of protecting rights for all.
Moving on to another topic which is Tech, Volt has been advocating for the use of A.I. for policy in Europe. There have been vocal critics for the use of A.I. in politics, some would point to scandals such as Cambridge Analytica with Facebook, or allegations around the U.S. elections in 2016 and beyond. Why do you think AI would help in Europe and how?
To clarify, we’re not advocating for the use of a for policy. AI is already used. Among all the technological developments that are to come AI is probably the most disruptive one, but it’s also one that is already happening. A.I. is already impacting our lives on a daily basis. We just need to get ahead of it. In April 2018, the European Commission released a report which is called Artificial Intelligence for Europe, laying down basically three pillars for a European approach to A.I. The first one being that we need to get ahead of technological developments and to encourage the uptake by the public and private sectors. The second one is that we need to prepare for social economic changes brought about by A.I. and the third one is that we need to ensure an appropriate, ethical and legal framework. So we agree with all of this. And you know the fact of the matter is as I said A.I. is already impacting us in every single sector. The reason why we are mentioning it and that many fail to do it, is that we just need to get ahead of it. We need to make sure that as the European Commission said we have an appropriate framework because as you mentioned whether through Cambridge Analytica, or other scandals AI can have very negative effects. I can also think of cyber warfare or other. It can actually have very negative impacts but it can also be very beneficial. It can help to create jobs. We want to make sure that we get ahead of it that we prefer and that we have an appropriate framework for it. This is why for example we want to create the EU High Level Artificial Intelligence Coordination Office, to gather the best minds in the field, and to establish high ethical standards for A.I.. No one is actually doing it at the moment. A.I. is beginning to make waves at a national level, we need to make sure that we have a framework that we can abide by and that is ethical so that we don’t end up with disastrous effects. A second measure that I can give you is that you know we talk a lot about A.I. for example in the US and in China, a bit less in Europe. But we have lots of resources. They’re just being scattered around Europe. We want to make sure that we have a strong European AI ecosystem that emerges, by making A.I. available and accessible to everyone. We want to increase the European Investment Bank support for A.I., to at least 1 billion a year by 2020, and to set up a type of ‘AI On Demand’ platform to provide a single access point to key A.I. resources in the EU. This will enable people to have access to all of those resources that are all over the place right now. And we finally want to ensure that AI is used to boost entrepreneurship and create jobs. So we want to scale up investments in technologies like blockchain, Big Data and A.I. to help Europe become, I mean Europe’s strategic sector to compete globally. To summarise, basically AI is already happening in Europe, it’s impacting us. So we need to make sure that we have an appropriate framework, and that we can abide by not to have such scandals, and that we don’t leave anyone behind. So by preparing we can make sure that some of the unemployment that will be caused by is dealt with and that we actually use it as an opportunity.
To support democracies in Europe, not to try and unfold them. Or at least not to be controlled or misunderstood by European institutions. I guess this is what you mean.
But also to create jobs and opportunities and so on. It has, beyond the obvious examples like Cambridge Analytica, it has the potential to help create jobs. So we should use it when it’s positive. We should just be careful, we should set limits, obviously. It tends to be one of the big issues in general with the political sector, that it’s very behind in terms of technology. So I don’t know if you remember the hearing of Zuckerberg in front of the European Parliament, I was watching it live and I didn’t know whether to cry it or to laugh. It was extremely depressing and at the same time it looked a bit like a comedy. It’s just we politicians tend to be very behind when it comes to tech. And AI is one of the sectors where we just can’t afford to be. So we need to make sure that we get ahead of it, that we get the best minds, the best businesses and that we set up a proper framework and we use it for good.
And actually you made a very interesting point and why I mentioned Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is that there seems to be a wide gap between politics and tech. And how those two can be combined but also how policies and democracies can benefit from technology such as A.I., and not in a way that is actually scandalous or utterly depressing when it comes to manipulation of data or breach of data. I think that you’ve basically specified everything, just now. So thank you about this. On another point you still think that at large the Internet and social media platforms, that offer they opportunities for democracy or do you see real dangers?
I think it’s a good question, but I think there’s two sides of the coin, obviously just like for AI. On the one hand it’s a huge opportunity. And I’m saying this because we wouldn’t have been able to create Volt without social media. You know we had no big names and no funds nothing. And so literally creating a Facebook page and a website that was very ugly at the time, but a Facebook page or Twitter account and an Instagram account is how we started. And it’s still how we do it. Then it was on the ground, but you know when you don’t have a lot of money it’s one of the only ways to get your word out there. It enables citizens to get active in a way which they couldn’t before. You can mobilise people, you can organise people. It has an incredible powerful potential. We see it, we’ve done it. We’re still using social media to not only get people involved and to vote but also to get ideas and policies. When we talk about the Internet, we’re creating software to make sure that we can consult citizens at the moment on different policies to get good feedback, new ideas, a wider pool of people who are affected directly by what you do. So the potential benefits are huge. And we see them every single day. Then of course you have real dangers. Again we saw it with Facebook and we see it with meddling into elections. And this is when politics still is, not even 10 years, 50 years behind when we’re talking about Internet, social media, tech in general when we need to have good frameworks to regulate it but while understanding that it enables people who would never have been able to go into politics like me before to get active in the first place.
With Forum, what we are trying to do is to provide a platform that would be a true European public platform for debate, information, etc. Do you think that having a centralised element like a European public platform would help in many ways, so I’m thinking specifically related to what you were saying: to increase accountability, for platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple etc, and how they influence everyone’s lives today but also to promote initiatives, perhaps powered by AI. What are your thoughts on a European public platform and how that could help all citizens at large?
So I think in general one of the things in the EU that we lack is a public space. We have social media and so on. But we don’t have a public space. We don’t have European political parties. We don’t have a European broadcasting system. We don’t have platforms to interact directly with the EU. We lack of political space and a public space in general. I think a public platform could take many different forms. We propose some, not necessarily just one. I’ll give a best practice: in Italy before any piece of legislation goes forward, to be voted on by the parliament, citizens have the possibility to comment and give feedback on it through an online platform. This platform is very complicated to use, I tried. But we want to create a platform to enable citizens to give feedback on any piece of legislation in front of the European Parliament. This is a type of public platform: it’s enabling you to participate and debate as a citizen. On the one hand, it enables politicians to get more feedback, sometimes better ideas and more creative solutions. On the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily need to be online, creating citizens assemblies is another way to create political space. So you can have many different types of public platform in view. But I definitely think we need to increase the public space for the union to give citizens a sense of belonging to the EU and also to better the work of the EU.
Why do you think it is vital to establish a pan-European transnational political debate arena?
The EU is supposed to be a political union as well. How can we have a political union without having pan-European and transnational political parties or debates? It’s like if at the national level you didn’t have national parties or you didn’t have national debates. It’s even hard to imagine in the first place and this is what is happening in the EU. So if we want to fulfil, and I want to, this side of the EU, which is the political union, if we want to continue doing politics and represent citizens we need to have an arena that is therefore for political parties, for debates, or just a political arena in the first place. It’s absolutely vital. I think it’s even hard to explain in the first place why we need it, because it’s so fundamental when you do politics to have a political arena.
What are the challenges in your opinion and in your experience of trying to unite citizens across Europe under one banner, whatever this banner is, for you this would be Volt’s of course?
Often people think that the biggest challenge is finding common ground. Every time I present Volt, people ask me how we manage to find common ground between French, Italian, Bulgarian, Polish, and so on. This is actually quite easy, we’ve seen it with our two hundred pages policy document that citizens from all over these countries vote on: we all face common problems, and there are common solutions to these problems. The real challenge in having a pan-european party is the system in place. Right now political parties don’t exist as such: what is defined as a European political party is comprised of different national parties, which do not have to have similar structures. For us, we had to create an association, which is Volt Europa, and then we had to create national political parties, they subscribe to Volt Europa. There is no legal framework in place to operate as one. This is one of the hardest thing, because not only is it very hard to set up a national party in some countries, for example in Romania it takes nine month. But then it means that the transfer of funds from one country to another can be illegal, or from Volt Europa to one regional chapter. Which makes it very complicated. An then, different voting rules in different countries make this incredibly hard. Having to collect 150,000 signatures in Italy is daunting, but then having to pull out one million euros to print ballots, which by the way has a huge environmental cost, is really not very smart a way of doing it in France, and is another barrier to democracy. We aim to operate as one, we do in practice, but the system doesn’t really allow us to do it. And national voting systems make it even more complicated because they are not harmonised. This is why once in the European Parliament and after, one of my main priority is lobbying to enable the creation of real European parties, to harmonise voting rules, to make sure that we have this political space to have real Europeans and real European parties.
What is ahead for the European Parliament, and for Europe over the next few months or perhaps over the next five years?
So much is ahead! Obviously there are many policy areas that need to be dealt with, we talked about AI in the podcast, we talked about federal Europe, voting rules. Those are the key challenges. But I think maybe more than this, is to gain the trust of citizens. We have seen it in surveys, we’ve seen with how nationalists and populists parties use it: there is a real disconnect between the EU and the local level, and even the national level. One of the key challenges, and one of the things that the European Parliament should definitely focus on in its next term is passing measures to increase accountability, transparency, and give trust. We often talk about the negative aspect of the European Parliament but it has a great impact on countries. In most countries, the EU impacts more than 30% of national legislation. We need to make sure that there is trust being built between citizens and the EP. And this is done by giving citizens a voice, enabling them to participate more than every five years to an election that is so complicated that most people don’t understand it. By making sure that the Parliament is transparent, both in the way MEPs spend money, and in the voting system as well so all votes are fully transparent. So we need to make sure that the European Parliament links with the citizens, speaks to the citizens and creates this trust so nationalist and populist parties won’t be able to take up this much space.
Do you have a book or a resource about Europe at the moment that you would recommend for all of us?
Yes, since we ahead of the European elections, I would recommend to read Europeans programs. I’m actually not kidding. I think one of the main thing is that people care very little about these elections, and programs can be very long, so instead of a book I would definitely recommend for everyone to go on Volt’s website and check out our program for the European elections. And if you want to read more, we have a supporting document explaining how we plan to do all of this, and with which funds. And to do the same with other parties. Citizens don’t tend to be informed enough about the European elections because there’s not much debate at the national level around it, we need to make sure we vote in a conscious manner for the future of the European Union.
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