EVERYONE AGREES that the European Union is not democratic enough, but they disagree on what to do about it. In 2016, shocked by the Brexit referendum, a group of young Europeans who had studied in Britain decided that one solution might be a pan-European political party. Their brainchild, Volt, now has thousands of members across 30 countries (the EU28 plus Albania and Switzerland), and will run in the European Parliament elections next year. On October 27th about 450 delegates met in Amsterdam to approve the party’s programme, in a sea of youthful optimism and multilingual policy wonkery.
The problem with European parties is that there aren’t any, explains Volt’s policy chief, Colombe Cahen-Salvador, a 24-year-old French human-rights lawyer. Every country has its own parties. In European Parliament elections, voters back various national parties, which form groups at the European level. Citizens cannot be sure what they are getting, since a vote for Germany’s centrist Christian Democrats is, in effect, also a vote for Hungary’s populist Fidesz party, their partners in the centre-right EPP group. DiEM25, a new leftist movement, tries to fix this by getting parties in different countries to adopt one platform.
In contrast, Volt has “the same brand and the same policies all across Europe”, says Andrea Venzon, a 26-year-old Italian ex-McKinsey consultant who founded the party with Ms Cahen-Salvador and a German friend, Damian Boeselager. Volt’s members have spent 18 months debating policies in internet groups and live meet-ups. Different country chapters disagreed over how emphatically to support gay marriage and the fight against climate change, but backed both, along with an EU-wide refugee system and gender quotas on corporate boards.
Volt will face tremendous hurdles. It is registered in only ten countries and may succeed in fielding candidates in even fewer. It will struggle to take votes from established pro-EU outfits, such as green and liberal parties. It also has some things going for it: young, clever leaders who look good on television and a bottom-up organisation suited to an age of direct democracy. Besides, the line between the pragmatic and the idealistic is not always so clear. For example, Volt wants to slash the parliament’s enormous internal translation costs by requiring MEPs to be minimally fluent in English. Talk about Utopianism.