Strolling the city this election season, you’ll have noticed the white stencils: #VoteVolt! But what exactly is Volt? Here’s a beginner’s guide to the new party running for the German Bundestag this year.
First of all: no, this is not Wolt. This party won’t be delivering your lukewarm curry on a Friday night. Volt with a ‘V’ is an election newcomer pledging to bring the best practices from across Europe to Berlin. Some examples? Laptops and tablets for schools ‘like in Helsinki’, social housing ‘like in Vienna’, or traffic-calming measures ‘like in Barcelona’.
Volt’s candidate for the Bundestag in Mitte is 30-year-old Valerie Sternberg. She moved to Berlin in 2017 to join the party: “I didn’t want to just watch any more”, she says. “The current political landscape lacks the thirst for action.”
Andrea Venzon from Italy, Colombe Cahen-Salvador from France and Damian Boeselager from Germany dreamed up Volt in 2016 in response to the Brexit referendum. In March 2017, they officially founded the party, which was registered in Germany a year later. “That’s what sets us apart from the Greens and Die Linke”, says 32-year-old Paul Loeper, Volt’s Bundestag candidate in Berlin-Pankow. “We’re actually European.”
And that’s why they see themselves as the party for international Berliners: “Many expats don’t even know they can vote in regional elections,” explains Johanna Drechsler, head of Volt Berlin and candidate for the Abgeordnetenhaus (city parliament) and BVV Mitte (district council).
Many expats don’t even know they can vote in regional elections
“We also have to find a solution for people who live in Berlin but haven’t been able to officially register here,” says Christian König, who is also running at city and district level. The party has been busy contacting expat associations and getting its message out there: you don’t have to be deutsch to go to the polls. Summaries of their election manifesto are also available in English, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Romanian, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and Bulgarian.
The party has grand plans to standardise the electoral process in every EU country for elections to the European Parliament in Brussels, introduce more welcoming asylum policies across the bloc, and even found a ‘Federal European Republic’ with one European Army (bye bye, Bundeswehr!).
Of course, the district council of Berlin-Mitte wouldn’t be the right place to make such huge, continent-spanning, structural changes – so the party still has a long way to go. They’re not covered by the current opinion polls due to their newcomer status and in 2019, they got just 0.7 percent of the vote for the European Parliament. But they’ve gained some ground in Germany since and have seats in a number of local councils, such as Cologne and Darmstadt.
The international outlook isn’t the only thing that draws people to Volt, which has around 300 members in Berlin and 3000 members across Germany. Volt also wants to be a party where everyone can get involved. “When I was a teenager, I interned with a CDU representative. That killed my passion for politics for quite a while. It was all so much about who knows who”, Drechsel says.
“Most of us have similar stories”, adds König. So where does the party place itself on the political spectrum? Volt is reluctant to take on the Pirate Party’s long-standing approach of claiming to be neither left nor right. “Only right-wing parties say that, so we discarded it,” says Loeper. Instead, they describe themselves as “progressive,” “pragmatic” and “pan-European”.
Need a political explainer? Here’s EXB’s guide to the German elections 2021