November 7, 2019

volt-europa-logo---purple-sq.jpg

The Volt Europa logo features the word "Volt" in white letters on a purple field, surrounded by 12 stars in a circle representing Europe
Volt Europa is a transnational European political party whose founders include two SIPA students (now alumni).
Shocked by the surge in European populism and nationalism that culminated in the 2016 Brexit vote, Andrea Venzon MPA ’17 and Damian Boeselager MPA ’17 were still SIPA students when they formed (with Colombe Cahen-Salvador) a new transnational progressive party called Volt Europa.

 

The party ran candidates for the European Parliament on a platform of cross-border solutions to problems like migration, climate change, and EU reform. In May 2019 Boeselager was elected to the European Parliament. It was Volt Europa's first electoral win.

On October 31, Venzon and Boeselager returned to SIPA for an event cosponsored by the Columbia European Union Student Association, European Institute, SIPA’s Office of Alumni Affairs, and the Center on Global Economic Governance.

They spoke with SIPA News before the event convened. The interview has been condensed for length and clarity.

Take us back to the decision to form Volt Europe.

Venzon: Brexit was the moment when we realized...that something was off. The populists and nationalists were on the rise and people like Damian and I—people that lived in Europe, loved Europe—really needed to take a stance and do something about it.

Boeselager: What we thought is that the actual problem lies in politics itself. So, if you want to do something, if you want to go where the problem is, you have to go into politics. And that is something that in our generation, and in Europe, not a lot of people do.

How did you engage people in the political process who had not been involved before?

Venzon: Over the first month we tried to organize, we had no clue about how to start a political party. We were here in New York, but I think the big shift was we actually moved back to Europe and we started hitting the streets.

You don't have to be a billionaire, you don't have to be a huge influencer to start something. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of convictions, but you can do it. And I think there was the human contact that you had that in these local events was the beginning of everything.

Boeselager: Being super transparent about how we didn't know anything and basically saying, Look, if you want to get politically active, we believe it's the right thing and we should do it on a European level and you can be a part of that and design what it will look like.

What's been the difference between having a vision for this party and campaigning, and actually governing?

Boeselager: We won this seat because all these people that want to participate and change something, they have this reality check that something changed. So out of 751 seats, one is different than it would have been if nobody would've gotten active. And that might not seem like a big thing, but it's a huge success for all these volunteers who were giving out flyers.

It's constant work of the movement and maybe more from a personal perspective. There's a lot of new things to learn. Obviously you’re trying to understand how do you position yourself in the committee? What are the core topics that you really care about? So, in my case it's the reform of the EU from an institutional perspective or trying to set up a European migration asylum system and working towards responsible AI that works for businesses.

How do you think your SIPA experience influenced the formation of Volt Europe?

Venzon: I think that the beauty of SIPA, compared to every other university that I'm aware of, is the diversity. Because, here you could speak with people from everywhere in the world every day and understand that people have the same hopes and dreams.

You see that borders don't matter that much and cultures are interesting and they can merge and be confronted and you can learn a lot from each other.

Boeselager: That was really helpful when thinking about a European party. I think we would have never thought about it if we would've stayed in our own countries without expanding the perspective.

Then, just being in New York and experiencing this constant drive and the idea that something is possible, that you can achieve something if you just really work hard for it. I think that is a beautiful combination that allowed us to just go ahead with it and just do it.

— Brett Essler

How Two SIPA Alumni Founded a New European Political Party—and Won