Over the last decade the European Union has been confronted with one crisis after the other. On the national level this situation prompted the creation of new political parties, which entered the scene abruptly. Notable examples include Podemos, founded in the wake of the indignados movement and two years into the European debt crisis; the Peoples Party in Belgium, Brothers of Italy, and the Independent Greeks. Simultaneously, this context of crisis gave established right-wing and radical-left parties the possibility to capitalize on the situation. In Poland and Hungary, Law and Justice and Fidesz reentered the government respectively in 2010 and 2015. SYRIZA, founded in 2004 as a political party based on the coalition of existing radical leftist parties, became in 2015 the largest party in the Greek parliament.
Non-traditional left-wing parties like Podemos and SYRIZA achieved electoral success and are to this day among the leading political parties in Spain and Greece. They failed however to trigger systemic political and economic change. Their downfall is debatable and due to various cases, the most significant of them being that their electoral success was isolated in a hugely politically and financially polarized Europe. Without international support a radical leftist agenda could have not been implemented, which resulted among other things in SYRIZA’s capitulation to the EU Troika’s will. This capitulation helped prompt the formation of DIEM25, a pan-European movement formally known as Democracy in Europe Movement 25, founded in 2016. One year later, on 29th of March 2017, the same day the UK formally announced its decision to leave the Union, Volt Europa, commonly known by its abbreviation Volt, entered the European political scene. It offered European voters a progressive, internationalist and pro-European political alternative. Diem25 operates as a coalition seeking to organize left-wing parties, grassroot movements into a common front that share a common political response to the challenges the EU faces. VOLT, on the other hand, has established and registered its national subsidiaries in several European States. While Volt remains a social liberal force placing itself in the European center-left, Diem25 proposes more radical policies aiming above all to democratize the Union through a policy of decentralization. Both recognize the importance of the internalization in our collective political consciousness of an identity narrative through which European citizenship will no longer be an abstraction but a reality.
Amidst the crisis and the Brexit discussions, Spector, an indie rock band based in London, wrote “Born in the EU.” This song was above all a strong political statement and a declaration of support for the EU. The protagonist, like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” wants to believe that being born in the EU actually means something. The question is no longer if it means something, but what this something means; being a European is not a static state, but one that changes often due to the political narrative of the time. The next decade will be pivotal in Europe’s trajectory in its path of reinventing itself as multinational society that sustains a homogeneous space of standards, and in defining what it means to be European and the values that the EU should promote. In the interview that follows we talk with Reinier about democracy, inequality, and the future of Europe.
New political parties like Podemos or Syriza, were appealing to those who were experiencing a sense of uncertainty, frustration and hopelessness during the European austerity. Who are the Volt supporters?
Volt supporters come from all across Europe and from all walks of life. On average Volt members are in their early 30s. That’s much younger than in most national parties. What we all have in common is that we long for progressive and pragmatic politics that goes beyond national interests. We are looking for a new, more constructive and optimistic tone in politics that focuses on the long-term future. Volt supporters believe that working cross-borders is the way to address today’s challenges; believe in the chances of innovations; and dare to reform the EU drastically in order to fight climate change, create a humane migration system and create more equality in Europe. So, if this sounds appealing to you, we welcome you to join the change and become part of our movement!
Many European countries are dealing with debt burden, public and private; And there are clear economic disparities throughout the EU. Your call for a European Minimum wage, could also translate as a call to increase the minimum wage in certain member states. This brings to mind, the US senator Bernie Sanders’ fight to increase the federal minimum wage. Do you agree with any of his views?
I felt the Bern!
However, the stakes and circumstance in the US and in Europe are very different. Specifically for minimum wage in Europe the situation varies a lot per country, so we do advocate for a higher minimum, but our policies aren’t the same everywhere. In general, we intend on starting a long-term unification process of European labor markets with practical standards of social protection.
Challenges ahead such as overcoming the pandemic and managing the green transition will continue to cost money. Increasing public debts are an issue of intergenerational justice, as we cannot expect the following generations to deal with this alone. Therefore, innovative concepts are needed to raise these funds. Volt puts forward an ambitious vision, tangible goals and realistic plans on how to finance them. Inspired by best practices from all over the world, we are keen on being part of the solution.
In Europe, 10 % of all financial wealth is transferred to tax havens (4% in the USA) and 75 billion $ lost in tax revenues. How can this be tackled on an EU level?
It’s simple: Those who use our infrastructure and make profits in Europe should also contribute to our fiscus for the benefit of our societies. We should strive to address both tax havens outside of the EU and tax optimization practices inside the EU. Tax evasion and competition within the EU is a big problem. It’s unjust and it creates unfair competition within our single market. Some companies take advantage of access to the single market and of the fragmentation of our taxation systems. “Thanks to” the practices from some Member States – e.g. Ireland and the country I’m from, the Netherlands.
Therefore, we propose to introduce an EU wide Corporate Tax (with a common definition on calculation methods for corporate taxes) to fight tax havens. We want to lift the unanimous voting at the Council on such matters in order to stop these practices. As a Pan-European party, we fight for this minimum corporate tax rate in every EU member state, including those that so-far benefit from their own low tax schemes.
Do you accept the view that in a time of massive income inequality the EU should represent the interests of the working and middle class?
The EU should represent the interests of all its citizens. Thus, we enhance the voices of all European citizens through participatory mechanisms, where suitable. We suggest a participatory budget, where European citizens can determine the allocation of a part of the common EU spending. Further, the Conference on the Future of Europe, that has recently been launched, is a step in the right direction. We from Volt have advocated for the conference to be as inclusive as possible and enable meaningful participation. Unfortunately, we experience that member states and EU-institutions are still unwilling to open up their power strongholds for the benefit of a more engaging and more vibrant democracy, where citizens are heard. In the long-term, a trusting and reinforcing image of people is necessary, combined with education in how to participate in a democracy apart from voting.
Does capitalism, our current form of production and consumption hinder the fight against poverty and social inequality?
Volt is in favor of socially responsible market economies. The European welfare state has contributed to fighting poverty in Europe but facing new challenges it is time to update the way we ensure social and economic equality. “No one left behind” clearly expresses our stance on the society, economy and state we envision and their solidaric role towards every European citizen. As a party and movement, we launched “housing first”, a social innovation campaign designed to counteract homelessness in Europe. While the state must address growing economic inequalities through far-sighted policies and create the framework for societal cohesion, we aim to empower every individual to contribute to and benefit from the economic success within the EU.
We want to improve our market-based economies by taking advantage of new digital solutions to help decrease inequalities and fight poverty further. We will also bring in reforms to change the toll that old school capitalism brought on the environment, we need a greener system. To manage this shift towards a sustainable, circular economy, citizen empowerment will enable every citizen as well as companies to be part of the solution.
Speaking of inequality, climate change impacts unequally, often placing the burden on poorer countries who bear less responsibility on the climate crisis. What is your stand on climate justice?
Sustainable development does not only mean green policies. Social equality must be a cornerstone of our fight against climate change. That means for example that in our own societies the transformation towards a green economy must not come at the cost of socio-economically weaker groups. It also means that our fight against climate change can only be successful if we address the needs of low-income countries, as we will solve climate change only successfully if we work together across the globe with respect to our mutual needs.
The radical sentiment ran deep through the youth of the late 60; some of the themes of this radicality are reoccurring in our days: especially internationalism. Could Volt in the future inspire and aid in the establishment of like-minded parties outside of Europe?
Volt could surely inspire others to follow its example. While we are clearly in favor of multilateralism and do support internationalism, we put our focus on bringing transnational politics to Europe first. Our task, to build the first pan-European party active on all political levels to improve the EU, is true pioneer work. To Europeanize the political party landscape is actually quite logical, as common political structures and democratic institutions are already in action on the European level. Only citizens’ representation and political debate is lacking behind. Therefore, Volt enables for the first time that European citizens come together on the European level for a political will building process and define their common vision for the future. Part of this vision is the EUs role as a responsible partner globally, that is committed to create a better global balance.
While Volt is a pan-European party, it is also a political movement that generates social innovation. It has already aided the foundation of EuropeCares. Although not a party, EuropeCares clearly looks beyond Europe as an aid distribution NGO.
The refugee crisis went beyond national borders and called for action to be taken at the European level. Volt advocates for a burden-sharing refugee system. The European Commission’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, calls for flexible solidarity on a voluntary basis. Would you say that the deadlock caused by Dublin III Regulation can be resolved through a voluntaristic approach?
No, not just through a voluntaristic approach. Dublin needs to be reformed. The 2015 Refugee crisis showed the little solidarity between national governments and how a voluntary-based asylum mechanism is not realistic. As 160,000 asylum seekers were to be reallocated from Italy and Greece to other countries, national reluctance hindered the whole process – most countries hosted only a fragment of the quotas they had pledged to welcome. Not only did this leave Italy and Greece overwhelmed, it also left thousands of human beings in overcrowded and inhumane camps on the Mediterranean shores that still exist. Beyond a refugee crisis, it was and continues to be also an asylum crisis. Volt strongly calls for the development of a fair and humane European asylum system, more legal pathways to Europe that enable those seeking protection to apply for asylum in Europe safely and the investigation of any human right violation within and beyond our external borders in relation to EU border protection. With the current ongoing emergency situation in many camps and at the external borders, we cannot wait for legislative processes. Thus, our MEP Damian Boeselager has recently launched a website called EuropeWelcomes (https://www.europewelcomes.org) together with the Greens/EFA which contains an overview of “safe haven cities” across Europe and an easy-to-follow instruction on how each of us can put pressure on politicians to welcome more refugees.
The refugee crisis was soon to be followed by a pandemic that provided leverage for many European countries to legitimize authoritarian measures, from dystopian surveillance systems to impending public gatherings. Was this a statement on the fragility of European democracies?
I don’t think the governments misused this crisis to implement “authoritarian measures”. They were trying to do what they could to overcome the crisis we were in. In general, though, democracies are fragile. We have to work continuously for the preservation of liberal democracy, not just in the emergency situation of a global pandemic. What we also saw at the beginning of the pandemic is the reflex of national governments to fall back into national egoisms, through supply stops for PPE and unilateral border closures. While such uncoordinated first reactions that were so out of line with European, or any, solidarity left an unpleasant aftertaste, we also saw cross-border cooperation, mutual support and great empathy across borders with those hit hardest. We experienced the historic step where EU member states, understanding that a spirited joint stimulus is needed, took on debt together for the first time. We saw that in a global pandemic, as with so many cross-border challenges, close European cooperation is needed to achieve better results for all.
Griselda Qosja is a Research Associate at the University of Hamburg, Faculty of Law. She is a lecturer at the LLM Program in International and European Law.