Damian Boeselager MEP: “Our goal is the development of a European parliamentary democracy.”

, by Luca Arfini

Damian Boeselager MEP: “Our goal is the development of a European parliamentary democracy.”

The New Federalist interviewed Damian Boeselager, a co-founder of ‘Volt Europa’ who now sits as the party’s only MEP. He is a member of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and of the Delegation for relations with Canada.

JEF Brussels Secretary-General Luca Arfini sat down with him to discuss how he started his political career, the main challenges he had to face when founding Volt and his plans for the 2019-24 term.

Where would you place yourself on the political spectrum?

I wouldn’t put myself on the political spectrum because we decided that we wanted to focus on individual topics, on actual policies. This is why we wrote an extensive 250-page program containing details of what we stand for across different policy fields. We are definitely a progressive young movement, with stances that could range from green to liberal ideas.

In 2017, you founded Volt Europa alongside Andrea Venzon and Colombe Cahen-Salvador. Could you please explain to us your decision to become active in politics through a ‘pan-European’ party? Had that always been an aspiration of yours? What were the main challenges you faced?

It was definitely not my intention to become active in politics. The situation emerged in 2016. Brexit had just happened, Trump’s election was looming and many people were becoming more anxious about what was going on. They saw the rise of nationalism and feared that the EU would disintegrate. We understood that many of the institutions we took for granted were actually very fragile and had to be defended.

On top of this, challenges such as climate change, migratory flows or digitalisation were making it obvious that effective pan-European solutions were needed. We started from the problems to then analysed the current status of the institutions, which we understood need reform. Afterwards, Andrea came up with the idea of going into politics right away and we came to the conclusion that a European approach would make the most sense.

When I mentioned the challenges, I didn’t mean what difficulties, we, as Europeans, are facing, but more what obstacles you as a person had to overcome in creating a party.

Everything was completely new to us. We had never been involved in a political party. We started writing a manifesto, creating a website and trying to get people together to fight for the common cause of a united and more progressive Europe. We had to think about all kinds of things, such as what of team structure and how to organise our daily work. We also faced difficulties when approaching how to legally found a party legally and how to stand candidates in different countries. We understood we faced hurdles and barriers. But I hope we are doing a good job with our seat in the European Parliament and at the local level, where we have also won some seats.

Volt’s original intention was to run in all 28 EU member states, but the party has subsequently faced legislative hindrances at the national level, and has failed to gain recognition in all Member States. How do you wish to improve this situation for the next European Parliament elections?

To be honest, having one MEP has already been a huge success. We now have to ensure that this momentum leads to growth in countries where we’re not strong yet, and to a consistent structure across the continentI. Our focus is not only on gaining more MEPs in five years’s time, but to run candidates in local, regional and national elections in many different countries.

But from legal point of view, do you have any plan to tackle the fact you can be recognized as a party across the 28 member states?

As part of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, I will try to ensure that we have harmonized European electoral laws, so the system doesn’t impede young parties from standing for election. A lot, of course, depends on political will, but from Volt’s perspective, we will push as hard as we can for further reform of the system.

Regarding your work and, since I am writing for the New Federalist, I want to ask you a question on building a federal Europe as a fundamental step of your program. In fact, one of the party’s main ideas is to establish a federal Europe, a goal that is also mentioned in Volt’s Amsterdam Declaration. Could you tell us how are you planning to achieve it and if you are currently working on any policy on that matter?

Our goal is the development of a parliamentary democracy at the European level. MEPs should be able to elect and control their government. There are a few things on the table right now. For example, there’s this conference on the future of Europe for which we want an inclusive decision-making process that includes citizens in this conference. I also think we should have the right of initiative in the European Parliament, we should have a harmonized electoral law and we should also have transnational lists. As a new party, I believe it is important that not only the existing European parties are able to include candidates on these lists, but that some signature-based system of entering transnational lists can be established, to allow for newcomers.

Volters decided, through an online vote, to join the Greens/EFA instead of Renew Europe or the Non-Attached Members. What were the reasons behind this decision? In which specific policies is Volt closer to the Greens than, for example, the Liberals? Do you believe this decision might constraint your political activity as a representative of Volt Europa in the European parliament?

The first decision was whether to be an anonymous MEP [as a Non-Affiliated Member] or whether to join a political group. It became absolutely clear to us that staying non-affiliated makes you completely powerless. We were here for tangible results and actual change, so this stance would make no sense. As for your second question: there are policies where we are closer to the Greens than to the Liberals, and vice versa. For me was mainly a question about where I could work on the topics that I care about: the Constitutional Committee but also the Industrial Policy Committee or the migration and asylum topics. These were the things that we negotiated and the Greens made a better offer.

I heard that there are negotiations going on between Five Stars Movement and the Greens. What’s your position on this? Do you actually think this would be a good move?

There was a discussion about this a couple of months ago and the position was only about opening a fact-finding mission with the Five Stars Movement. You know, trying to figure out who they are and what they’re doing. But I said it back then and would also say it now: I don’t believe they belong in the Green group. I think there are structural issues in the party, questions of values. I understand why it’s attractive because 16 MEPs entering a group makes the group a lot stronger. But from my perspective it is not a great idea.

Now, I have a more personal question. What are your priorities for the next five years in term of youth policies?

I’m part of the youth intergroup and we’re still in the process of defining the priorities, so we can see what exactly we can do to counter youth unemployment but also to ensure that we have the right voting age everywhere. But it’s a bit too early for me to see what exactly we will focus on.

OK. And then the last question. What advice would you give to a young person who wants to create his/her own party and running the next European/national/local elections?

The first advice is just to do it because I think there are many good people out there, who think about entering politics and then don’t do so. If you have a party that could actually represent you, then actually join that party. If you feel you’re not represented, then create your own. You can also always join Volt: I realized how important it is that we don’t just think that politics is something that is beyond our reach. The cool thing about democracy is that you can actually change things, and I think this one seat we have in the European Parliament proves this. It all started off with an idea, which became a bigger project involving lots of people working hard to make it happen. One seat out of 751 is a small thing, but shows that our political system system is built on individuals coming together to fight for change.

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