Is pan-European party Volt the future of EU politics?

The party won five-time as many seats in this past weekend’s European Parliament elections than it did in 2019 – but experts question how much influence it will have.
Dutch Volt candidates Anna Strolenberg and Reinier van Lanschot, centre, react to provisional EU election results in the Netherlands on 6 June. Both won a seat in the European Parliament.

By Julia Kaiser

Julia is a reporter at The Parliament Magazine

12 Jun 2024

On Monday, the co-founder of political party Volt, Damian Boeselager, was still euphoric.  

It was less than 24 hours since the initial results of the European elections had come in and Volt, a self-described pan-European party, had won five seats in the European Parliament – three from Germany, including Boeselager's, and two from the Netherlands.  

Boeselager was first elected to the EP in 2019 as Volt’s first and – for a long time – only MEP. Last summer, MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld left the Dutch liberal party D66 and joined Volt. In ‘t Veld, however, was not re-elected this year.   

“Last time [before the 2019 elections] we were rather the underdogs. We first had to explain to everyone what we were. That has now become less,"  Boeselager tells The Parliament.   

The centrist party that he co-founded in 2017 was created to build “a counter-model to these right-wing populists who always say that we should go back to the nation state.”   

The young party is also represented in national parliaments, including in the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Cyprus. Across Europe, the party campaigns with the same name, logo, and basic program, which are tweaked for national contexts.   

What are pan-European parties?  

Since its inception, Volt has advocated for the establishment of a federal Europe, and in the most recent election campaign called for a climate-neutral economy by 2040. It also considers itself the “first truly pan-European party.”

However, that’s a claim that André Krouwel, a political scientist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and co-founder of the voting advice website Kieskompas, considers “very much an exaggeration.” He notes that political parties like the Social Democrats are represented in every member state and have a group on the European level – the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group in the EP.   

But according to Vít Havelka, a senior research fellow at the Prague-based think tank Europeum, there is a major difference when it comes to the way in which Volt was developed compared to, say the Social Democrats. The alliances in the EP – like S&D or the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP) – take a bottom-up approach, while parties like Volt are built from the top-down, he argues.   

Volt, he explains, was developed at the European level and then “spills over to the national and regional level.” But the alliances in the EP “are rooted in national politics and then create an umbrella at the EU" level, Havelka says.   

But Volt is not the only example of a pan-European party with a top-down approach. Another contender in this year’s European elections was Mera25. The left-wing party was founded in 2021 and belongs to the movement Democracy in Europe 2025 (Diem25) launched by Greek anti-austerity politician Yanis Varoufakis in 2016.   

Mera25 campaigned for the introduction of a progressive wealth tax, fair wages – and, like Volt, calls for the establishment of “a federal European republic.” The party put forward candidates in Greece, Italy and Germany, but failed to win a seat this past weekend.   

National vs. European politics  

Still, Volt and Mera25 are currently the only fully pan-European parties of their kind on the horizon – even though elections to the European Parliament have been taking place since 1979.   

For Krouwel, that’s because sustainable political movements need to emerge from the ground-up. And even though Mera25 emerged from a grassroots movement in Greece, its politics wouldn’t be applicable in countries like the Netherlands or Sweden, he argues. Parties like Volt and Mera25 are “a hobby of rich children,” he says.   

Volt could only have an impact in the EP if it were to team up with the Greens/EFA group – and only then if the Greens were to join in a broader coalition of centrist parties like liberal Renew Europe, the EPP, the S&D. “If they're inside the group, they have something to say and they will get important positions. If they are staying outside, then they won't,” he adds.  

They must become a political actor at the national level first, and only then, they will be relevant at the EU level.

At the moment, the party is negotiating with the Greens and Renew, Boeselager says.  

Moreover, the idea of a pan-European party is rooted in the inherent belief in a federal EU political system. “But only a limited amount of people [are] actually attracted to that idea,” Havelka says.  

And despite its gains in this year’s elections, Volt is “still miles away from becoming a relevant political player,” he adds. “They must become a political actor at the national level first, and only then, they will be relevant at the EU level.”  

Pan-European parties in the future  

Nonetheless, Volt’s members see the party as a harbinger of things to come, Boeselager tells The Parliament. The election result is an “extremely positive signal” for the future of pan-European parties, he says.   

Volt ultimately aims to be represented by 23 MEPs from at least seven countries so that it meets the criteria to form its own political group in the EP.   

It’s an ambition that Krouwel does not consider realistic anytime soon. “If it happens, it's not in the next four or five European elections,” he says. 

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