Bruno Sánchez-Andrade, candidate of VOLT. (Braulio G. J.)
Braulio García Jaén
Tags: European elections, NASA, Politics, Brexit, World Bank, Humanities
05/18/2019 16:37 – Updated: 05-19-2019 19:08
On June 16, 2016, one week before the referendum that would mark the way out of the United Kingdom from the European Union, Bruno Sánchez-Andrade was in his office at the World Bank in Washington speaking by video conference with experts from several countries when, very early in the morning, death burst forth. A companion who had not been able to join at the beginning of the conversation asked very nervously if Brendan Cox, a British of the group of experts in Sustainable Development Goals, was connected: his wife, a Labor MP, had just been shot with a hunting rifle and stabbed by an ultranationalist shouting “Great Britain first”. Jo Cox, 41 years old and mother of two children, died in the ambulance.
Unlike what their compatriots have done in recent decades, Cox’s children, ages 3 and 5, are likely to grow up unable to travel, study, work, live and fall in love freely in twenty-seven European countries, in addition to theirs, something his mother defended at all costs against the Brexit. The Asturian Sánchez-Andrade, 38 years old, friend of the widowed father of those two children, is a candidate to the European elections next May 26 to defend the same thing for which the pro-European MP fought. “Almost everyone knows why and how Jo died”, he recalled on a sunny terrace in Madrid on Thursday, May 9, Europe Day. “But almost nobody knows for what did she live”, he added.
Jo Cox, who shortly before being killed had signed an exciting public defense in favor of Syrian refugees, “lived by this pro-European idea that we have more things in common than separating us”, says Sánchez-Andrade, career astrophysicist, scientist of vocation and an engaged politician. “And that’s one of the things that I also believe in”, adds the candidate in Spain’s of the first party at European level. VOLT, a party founded by Europeans as a reaction to Brexit, is running for the first time in eight countries with the same program and proposes a Europe more united politically and more progressive socially. A federation of “intelligent states”, against nationalism.
He arrives at the interview as he lives: dressed in jeans, t-shirt and windbreaker, and a laptop-sized cloth briefcase. “Good morning and happy day in Europe”, he says as his hello. About the place for the interview, he just asks to be in the sun. He admits that he has been forced to “buy a lot more clothes for the campaign”, but he still wears the jeans of his previous method. “These are the third pair that I buy exactly the same”, he explains. He uses them until one day he passes by the store that sells them, enters, buys a new pair and leaves the old ones in the store. If he tells this, it is to clarify that “minimalism” with which he tries to compensate for the high energy expenditure produced by his life as “autonomous in Asturias”, “with clients all over the world” and a girlfriend in Berlin. A life on board of an airplane in a world over which climate change hovers.
He arrives at the interview as he lives: dressed in jeans, t-shirt and windbreaker, and a laptop-sized cloth briefcase.
Brussels, we have a problem
Far from wanting to be a professional politician, Bruno Sánchez-Andrade Nuño (Oviedo, 1981), comes to politics at the hand of science. Of a very personal science, if oxymoron is allowed. Raised in a village under the Asturian sky, as a child he wanted to be a “student of stars” before learning to read. “I always wanted to be an astrophysicist and the subject of my thesis, in fact, is the Sun”, he says. PhD in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and after working “making rockets” at NASA, he discovered the “alienating feeling” of doing what he had always wanted to do, science, but without feeling identified. And he reinvented himself.
In hindsight he joins the dotted line and remembers how he modeled his own trade before turning 30 years old. He has become an “impact scientist”, although now opens a parenthesis to face the most complex challenge of his brilliant life: launch a pan-European party, the same party in all countries, when the ghost of nationalism threatens to draw back the European Union. He assumes it naturally: “Scientific skills can be applied for research or applied to policy making”.
An impact scientist is a well-informed politician and that’s what Sanchez-Andrade looks like. Son of an Asturian administrative mother and a musician, he changed the “Academia” for work in several NGOs and startups and then as an advisor to the president of the World Bank in development projects. From his office in Washington and his travels around the world, his life became a conciliatory mixture of science and empathy. Together with a multidisciplinary team, he designed, for example, the use of drones to carry out a land registry in Kosovo and return the ownership of the land to the widows the war had expelled from their homes. Meanwhile, he founded an association of Spanish scientists in the United States that today counts more than 1,000 members.
In the United States he lived the eight years of Obama, “the years of ‘hope’, of expectancy”, as he names them. But nothing that Europe should envy. “The American dream sells a lot, but I believe that the European dream can also be compared to the American dream in the sense of opportunities, to reach very high, and in Europe we have much more equal opportunities, much more social network. If you get into medical problems, if you are part of a minority, if you do not have a job or if you need social assistance, in Europe you have it much better”. About Trump he says that the challenge is to understand, not why there are such options, but why people vote for them. “It’s a reading that we have to do in Europe now that the Salvini [Italy], the Orbán [Hungary], Vox in Spain, are arriving”.
“It’s normal that we feel a little afraid of the future”, he says. “And if someone comes and promises you: ‘Do not worry, those immigrants who are here, we’re going to throw them out, do not worry, you’ll be able to make carbon emissions as you want’, and they promise you things from the past that you want, I understand that you may like that message, but it is a false message”. False and counterproductive in the medium term. “Once you trade with fear it is very difficult to govern, how do you govern a society that is so divided?” he adds.
In addition to the Kosovo land registry, Sánchez Andrade has worked in one of the largest refugee camps in the world, in Kenya, and in a hazelnut company in Bhutan, where he arrived to launch a logistics plan. He applies the scientific method to everything: he goes down to the ground, observes, collects data, formulates a possible solution and starts it up. “The application of the scientific method, falsable hypotheses, using tools to divide the complexity into things that you can study more easily, all this can be applied to the academy, or can be applied to the eradication of poverty”. The VOLT program, summarized in the so-called Amsterdam Declaration, proposes in fact a constant evaluation of public policies to improve its efficiency. Hence the “intelligent state”.
He has worked in one of the largest refugee camps in the world, in Kenya, and in a hazelnut company in Bhutan
Last week marked the sixty years of the C.P. Snow lecture on ‘The two cultures and the scientific revolution’, in which the American scientist lamented the mutual incomprehension that separated classical culture, based fundamentally on what we would today call Humanities, and scientific culture. Sánchez-Andrade defends a transfer. “I think society does not ask the scientist to be more involved in the problems and the stories he faces, and the scientist does not want to be involved”. More than a third way, I think what has to be done is a transfer between the skills of the scientist and society”.
The political vocation, in his case, is a way to generalize empathy. “The patriotism understood as someone who has studied in the public school, in the public high school and then has come to do things in his life; to this public system, to that social elevator that I have used I want in a certain way to give back what it has given me”, he explains. “At the World Bank I was working to help other countries, and I thought, why not help mine, or Europe”. And VOLT appeared, out of volt: “the idea is to electrify Europe”, he says.
He returned to Europe, physically, after nine years. He landed in Barcelona “on October 1 of the fateful year”, he says in reference to the referendum held in Catalonia in 2017, whose events are now being subject to trial in the Supreme Court. “We are against any nationalism, Catalan or Spanish, we want unity: we want to go to a federalist Europe, it is the opposite of what is happening here, and on this issue, although I know it works very well in the media, I think the most sensible thing in these cases is to say as little as possible “.
At the moment, all their “channels are still open”, he says, for those who want to know him better. “My Facebook, my Twitter, I have not cleaned anything, everything is still there”, he adds, knowing that “in Spain there are cases where some political careers have ended just for these reasons”. “I obviously have photos in which I will be partying, or including any opinion I may have had before and now I do not uphold”. “But it’s normal, people grow and opinions change; if you never change your mind, it’s bad.”
Many of the electoral maps published in the digital newspapers after the 28-A general election are a product of Mapbox, an American company that Sánchez-Andrade helped catapult. He arrived in there as chief scientist to a team of 10 people who worked in a garage, and when he parted he left it with headquarters in San Francisco, two successful rounds of investment and almost 200 workers. Now he wants VOLT to appear on those maps after the European elections on May 26.