Yesterday afternoon the local Edinburgh contact for Volt Europa, the youth-led political party that is pan-European at conception, invited members of YEM Edinburgh to meet her, so that she could present the party. Caitlin, T-J and I went to see her at a cosy vegetarian/vegan cafe where piano music was playing in the background.
The visual look and outward appearance were, I think, efficient: the flyers and other materials did a decent job at conveying credibility and dynamism. At the same time, we have an EU where many explicitly political decisions are (and should be) made at the European level, in a European Parliament where MEPs form European-wide ideological groupings; yet we don’t have a proper European party system. The idea of a genuinely pan-European party is spot-on, and Volt has certainly done something right.
However, I remain doubtful about the electoral prospects of the party. The person striving to get a local group together might not have been the right person to ask, but that was a chance for me to present my concerns, so I did.
I’ve written earlier about one issue that upstart parties are facing: if there are no already well-known figures who jump ship for the new party, it can be hard to gain legitimacy and consequently votes. What the local Edinburgh lead said in response was that the goal is rather to get non-voters to the ballot boxes, than to get other parties’ voters to switch to Volt. That, however, might be easier said than done: countless attempts have been made at getting non-voters to the ballots, and few have succeeded.
Do Volt know who their friends are?
In Scotland, the Edinburgh contact point spoke about creating a relationship with the SNP, given that after Brexit the SNP won’t be fighting for seats in the European Parliament (unless x2), whilst Volt isn’t currently interested in national, regional or local assemblies. Volt’s goal is to create a European parliamentary group for itself. This requires at least 25 MEPs from seven countries, which is not an easy task, especially for a newcomer party.
What happens if Volt instead has to ally with an existing group in the European Parliament, and divisions emerge within the party over who the closest ally should be? This might be a threat particularly for a party that does identify as progressive, but which is above all held together by the idea of a united Europe which, ultimately, is just the shell – a united Europe can adopt all kinds of policies, from “another Europe” to “the world’s biggest market for businesses”, and from “fortress Europe” to a “Europe open to the world”. If the elections go well but there’s no jackpot for Volt, the organisational discipline of the members may be put to a test. Will the membership accept the decision adopted, or will there be splintering?
The European elections next year will perhaps be the most interesting ones so far. I’m expecting campaigning on all sides to transcend national borders in a way that it hasn’t before, which is rather in line with the long-term trend of European integration. Maybe Volt will be one force that makes the elections interesting, but first it will have to prove its doubters wrong.