An Econometrician in Politics

This Wednesday the elections for the Dutch House of Representatives will be held. Whereas current members are intent on protecting their seats, new and smaller parties hope to break through. Volt is one of them. The pan-European political movement currently does not hold any seats in the House of Representatives, but with their rising popularity they plan on changing that this week. We talked to Sarah de Koff who, while still in her master's, is now 16th on the electoral list for Volt. Scroll down to read some of their most defining standpoints. 

First of all, can you give us a short introduction of yourself?

My name is Sarah. I’m 23 years old and originally from Utrecht but I moved here in 2016 to start the bachelor’s degree in Econometrics. After my bachelor, I took a year off to work at TNO in their department of Sustainable Logistics. I really enjoyed that year as I learned a lot about topics which are not necessarily covered in our courses, for instance how Econometrics can help make our economy more sustainable. Last year I started my master’s degree in Operations Research and Quantitative Logistics here at Erasmus. Right now I’m writing my thesis with Shell on the electricity market. The research is mainly about how Shell can trade electricity as efficiently as possible to accelerate its own energy transition. Electricity is quite an intricate good, as supply and demand should match every single minute, given that electricity is not stored. Besides my study I’m also a member of the association RSC/RVSV, where I’ve made many good memories over the years. Oh and I almost forgot, I’m a member of Volt!

Volt, even though rising in popularity, is still quite unknown here in the Netherlands. How did you come across them and why did you decide to join?

I joined Volt last year, mainly because I was missing the link between Econometrics and our society. In Econometrics we are trained to go work at these big companies after our study, enlarge their profits and make things more efficient. All that is of course important but I also want to add to society, especially on the sustainability front. So I thought I should join a political party, since it typically consists of interesting people with diverse knowledge that they can teach me. Volt stood out to me because they are the only party which does not have a youth department. Normally, in these departments young people get more of a supplementary role instead of actually participating, which to me feels almost like the kindergarten of politics. I would rather learn as I go, getting to know people and engaging in debates. There is no division between the old and young, which is refreshing seeing how so few young people take part in politics here in the Netherlands.

It is quite unusual for someone so young to be on the electoral list for a party. How did you end up in this position?

At first I was mostly in charge of organising events, but then one day I got a call asking me to join the elections as a candidate on the electoral list. Subsequently I underwent the entire procedure and was democratically chosen within the party to be 16th on the list. And here I am. This was never really the intention when I first joined Volt to be honest, but I am excited about how things are working out.

Is a career in politics what you would want later on, or do you still see yourself pursuing a career closer to Econometrics?

That is a question I get quite a lot actually, and honestly I don’t know yet. I love politics and the people in it, but to become a politician, a public figure, is asking a lot of yourself and you should really know how to handle that well. Even though these elections were a really great starting experience for this, and also to find out what goes on behind the scenes, they were also quite stressful at certain times. I will definitely stay active within Volt, whilst also gaining work experience. Much like the current research with Shell, sustainability is where my passion lies, so that will definitely stay in the picture. Maybe in the future I might just take a shot at becoming a politician, but that could be either 5 years from now or 20 years from now.

Volt is the only pan-European party in the running. Do you think that this is the future? Should more parties align themselves with this philosophy?  

While I don’t think that every party should be like this, it is good to have some parties orient themselves this way. There will always be nationalistic parties such as Forum for Democracy (FVD) who prefer a more localised approach. However the dissent from parties like us who always think in terms of what benefits Europe, is very beneficial to have. We dare to look past the borders to see how other countries are dealing with Covid-19 or climate change, and the kinds of solutions they implement. In my eyes, having more parties that try to connect different countries is always a good thing. It seems so obvious to me that this is a problem we should deal with together. Especially now, many young people question why there is so little communication and coordination between countries. We compete over masks with the very people that practically live right around the corner. In the end we are all in the same boat, dealing with the same problems. I do hope that more parties come to this realisation soon. So to answer the question, yes there will be more pan-European parties in the future, but they will definitely co-exist alongside nationalistic parties.

The party also boasts about setting up a new European immigration policy to better allocate refugees. What do you think is wrong with the current one?

Although we do currently have the Dublin Regulation (an EU law to determine which country is responsible for examining an asylum application), this agreement still does not make sure that countries adopt the responsibility to even consider asylum seekers. So naturally what happens is that no country, besides a few outliers, is willing to take in their share of people. We want there to, at the very least, be a new dialogue about changing this. The conditions that some of these people have to live in are horrible. They live in rat-infested areas, on soil that has been poisoned with lead, with soaking wet blankets and no warm water. We cannot let this happen. A while ago the Netherlands promised to take in 500 children, but that never actually happened. Instead, only about 100 children were taken in. This is not nearly enough, considering that even 500 is only a fraction of the amount of children living in refugee camps. In our immigration policy we really want to emphasise the responsibility that countries have. Another one of our policies is that migrant workers are able to see whether there are jobs available before they come to the Netherlands. What often happens is that people come here and then they are unable to find the jobs they hoped for. That’s why a job portal for the entirety of Europe would be very beneficial. This way, if you live in Libya for instance, but you want to work in Sweden, there is a platform where you can see the kinds of jobs that are needed in Sweden. An initiative like this can help distribute the migration stream more efficiently.

Switching gears a bit, Rotterdam is known to have very high rental rates which keep on rising in 2021. What would be a solution to this problem?

Regarding this, I have read the research of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) and that of Vrij Nederland. Both of these showed that just by building new housing we will not solve this problem. Of course it’s part of the solution since there is indeed a huge housing shortage in our country. Yet this will never bring the housing prices down to a level where us students can afford to rent a room or, later on, buy our first house. What Volt and I want is for us starters to have the right to a higher mortgage. One that doesn’t focus on our student debt, but rather takes into account our personal situation. What I hear a lot from the people around me is that they start their first job and want to buy a small house, but cannot get a decent mortgage because their contracts are still temporary. So that would be the first necessary change. Secondly, we should remove the extra charges on landlords (Verhuurderheffing). These charges make it less attractive for housing corporations to build social housing. If you look at SSH for instance, there is a good possibility that after signing up you land on the waiting list for seven to ten years. This should not be the case. 

(To read more about this check out the article that Sarah wrote for NRC, down below in the comments)

The European Central Bank or the ECB now wants to make it easier to have cross border fusions of banks and a more free flow of capital (and savings) between European countries. However, a lot of banks don’t welcome this idea because they think that in times of crisis, reciprocated support will be lacking. What is Volt’s stance on this? 

Well as we know, after the Corona crisis, government support of businesses will reduce. This could then cause companies to not be able to pay back their loans. Banks will suffer losses and some might even get into trouble, which causes shareholders to request even more money. We’ve seen this pattern before, in particular during the financial crisis of 2007-2008. It could also be that the government has to jump in, but that is an unlikely solution since government debt has already increased exponentially over this past year.

To tackle this problem there are two possible solutions. The first one is for stronger banks to take over the weaker ones, even if they are located in another EU country. In the communal capital market that we have, it is important to have free flow of investments and savings across borders, to even the playing field for banks. The second solution is to give bigger banks the opportunity to move some of their liquid assets from one to the another, wherever it is needed most. This is also what Andrea Enria (Chair of the ECB's Supervisory Board) proposed recently. Volt fully supports both solutions. You are right in that many national authorities are afraid that if their money goes to another country, they are less protected against recessions. That’s why they want to create barriers that prevent these kinds of money transfers. This reeks of deposit nationalism, comparable to vaccine nationalism, where every country chooses whatever benefits themselves. We have seen this before, right after the crisis in 2008. Volt opposes these kinds of artificial capital borders within Europe. 

We have arrived at our last question for you. Volt wants to put an end to unanimity as a way of voting in the Council of the EU, instead encouraging the second and most common method: Qualified majority voting (QMV). Why do this and what could be the benefits? 

Well for starters it is in no way democratic. I find it a bit weird how we choose our parliament democratically, but when for instance Latvia votes against a certain policy, no one can move forward. We want there to only be the principle of QMV, where a majority vote consists of 55% of countries, representing at least 65% of the European population. Not only is this more democratic but it also speeds up the process. Unanimity only further pits countries against each other. Everyone keeps thinking in blocks, north versus south or east versus west, when this was never the intention of the EU. Unanimity only works to further this polarisation. While there are many ethical and democratic reasons behind putting an end to this way of voting, I think that in a way it will also benefit our ‘European feeling’. 

A special thank you to Sarah de Koff for doing this interview. The Estimator encourages everyone (eligible) to go vote before the 17th!! 

This interview was taken in Dutch and translated to English by Tessa De Weser. For any questions or comments, as always you are welcome to leave those down below :). 

About this article

Written by:
  • Tessa De Weser
| Published on: Mar 15, 2021