“Strengthening citizen participation”

Eileen O’Sullivan of the young Volt party discusses the opportunities offered for democracy by digitalisation and Europe-wide engagement.

Eileen O’Sullivan: “Thinking across borders”
Eileen O’Sullivan: “Thinking across borders” Michael Braunschädel

Eileen O’Sullivan (26) is a member of Volt, the pro-European party that was only founded in 2017, and Head of the Department for Digitalisation, Citizen Service, Participation and EU Affairs of the City of Frankfurt am Main.

Ms O’Sullivan, what motivated you to become politically active for a new democratic force?
The 2015/16 migration crisis made me consciously political for the first time. I wanted to campaign for the rights of refugees and looked around at different parties, but didn’t find the right one for me until I came upon Volt. There I was immediately able to contribute and be active without taking any big detours. Then there is also Volt’s European identity: I’m an Irish citizen, have an Irish father, a Turkish mother and therefore no German citizenship. European solidarity and thinking across borders is especially important for Volt, so that was something I could identify with very well.

In your opinion, what new impulses does democracy need in Germany and Europe?
We have just reached an exciting juncture where citizens worldwide are becoming more self-confident and want to participate through initiative and movements, such as Fridays for Future. And simultaneously there are many digital opportunities and tools that can facilitate engagement of this kind. We can make administration and political decision-making processes more transparent and more accessible for citizens’ ideas. That can involve such banal measures as broadcasting meetings in digital form. Fundamentally, digitalisation offers us the chance to lower the threshold for participation in democracy. This kind of participation is often not easy for many people, whether as a result of time or organisational constraints – for example, for people with a disadvantage or a migrant background or for mothers with children to look after and a part-time job who will barely have time for meetings in parliament or a local council.

Volt sees itself as a “Europe-wide party”: how do you collaborate with colleagues in other countries?
We hold frequent and regular European discussions not only at the level of national party leaderships, but also among office holders at the municipal level. Our party conferences are also European; in 2021, for example, we met in Lisbon. Accordingly, we learn a lot from one another and about a very wide range of issues – from local politics to our major goal of strengthening the influence of the European Parliament and, as a result, democracy in the EU.

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