Designs for tomorrow, What future for European democracy?

This narrative was first presented at the conference Democracy, Complexity, Foresight, organised by Pascale Van Doren and Joseph Charlier, at the Palais d’Egmont in June 2012. It is only a sketchy scenario, but it was inspired firstly by a residential foresight seminar held for the Parliament of Wallonia in 2010, with fifteen young people and a number of experts. Secondly, it draws on some resources from work carried out since 2004 at the Wallonia Regional Foresight College, including the ‘Wallonia 2030’ project. A lecture on the subject of terrorism given at the Maison Losseau in Mons on 14 April 2016, at the invitation of the Haute Ecole provinciale du Hainaut Condorcet, gave me the opportunity to refer to this sketch, as did the analysis of scenarios for Wallonia 2016-2036 at the ‘Regional Foresight College’ study day at the Cercle de Wallonie in Namur on 16 April 2016

The Great European Electronic Security (G2ES)

The task assigned to me by the organisers is to picture the future of democracy in an uncertain and complex world, drawing on the methods of foresight.

Foresight has never diminished either complexity or uncertainty. Maybe, though, it can shine a light on them and attempt to describe their limits? In any case, its purpose is to prompt action by highlighting long-term challenges. To do this, it employs various methods and a range of devices, the primary aim of which is to help the listener to act. Although he must have at least a little desire to do so.

As I have been asked to give the introductory talk, I will play the role of provocateur and present to you an account that is only a sketchy scenario, but that was inspired firstly by a residential foresight seminar held for the Parliament of Wallonia in 2010, with fifteen young people and a number of experts, including Christophe Lejeune, a researcher at the University of Liège and author of the book Démocratie 2.0 [1]. Secondly, it draws on some resources from work carried out since 2004 at the Wallonia Regional Foresight College, including the Wallonia 2030 project.

So, kindly exert your imagination with me: we are 38 years in the future and it is 20 June 2050…

20 June 2050. The population of Europe has scarcely increased and is still around 500 million, despite the process of integration of candidate countries having continued. This process was in fact officially brought to a close on 31 December 2049 with the accession of Switzerland – a kind of icing on the European cake. The United States of Europe has 38 States, corresponding strictly to the ECU zone – the ECU having replaced the euro in 2023 at the end of the financial crisis that began in 2008. There had been little surprise at the rapid accession of the Balkan countries – Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and then Albania and Macedonia. Norway joined the Union following its decision in 2035 to stop exporting oil and keep its last reserves of crude for local consumption. Iceland joined in the same year. What might have been a surprise, the accession of Polesia, the country composed since 2029 of Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, has no longer seemed surprising since the occurrence of the convergence process with the European Union around the concept of methodical governance or technical democracy, which Michel Foucault would probably have called new govern-mentality [2]. As had been anticipated by some futurists, however, this accession has significantly increased tensions with the Russian Union, which is now the major continental parliamentary democracy, at least in the sense in which the term was understood in the twentieth century. We will return to this point.

Turkey’s absence from the list of Member States surprises nobody in 2050. Islamophobia, a striking characteristic of European society during the late 2010s, eventually convinced Ankara to form a Muslim Union with its neighbours to the south and east. This Islamophobia was particularly virulent in Europe after the wave of suicide attacks by people inaccurately described as ‘Islamist individualists’: most of these nihilists were in fact neither Muslim nor of Arab origin. This wave of more than three hundred attacks hit Europe in 2024 and 2025 and prompted what was called the Great European Electronic Security (G2ES) scheme. G2ES, as we now know, made the fortune of the company FACIES (Faces Identification Electronic Security), a spinoff of Facebook, which made Europe its field of experimentation thanks to the massive funding released by the Second European Framework Programme for Security. Remarkably, version 4.0 of the FACIES project formed the basis of the technical democracy (www.technical-democracy.eu) implemented in the Union during the 2030s.

Contrary to popular opinion – as repeated sometimes even at conferences like this – the idea of technical democracy was not the brainchild of a few Eurocrats at the Commission: in fact, it was more of an endogenous, bottom-up process. The concept first came to light in the TEIRs, the Traditional European Industrial Regions, and in particular in small, economically ailing towns. It is there, during the late 2010s and early 2020s, that the phenomenon known as Sherwoodisation became the most developed. The concept was the fruit of collaboration between a number of European researchers, and was popularised by Bernard Van Asbrouck, a professor at the University of Valencia. The term Sherwoodisation denotes the process by which entire populations drop out of the mainstream of society, evade the various cohesion mechanisms, disappear from the statistics on compulsory education, unemployment, welfare and even marital status and end up in a virtual Sherwood Forest. There, these fugitives from statistics pursue a life on the margins, governed by rules of their own which are distinct from those of traditional representative democracy. Approximate and very fragmentary data from the early 2010s estimated these populations to represent about 5-7% of the inhabitants of the identified areas, but this percentage is thought to have risen to more than 20% by the end of the decade. This increase of course arose from the worsening of the financial, economic, social and environmental crises, but also and above all from the moral and ethical crisis that afflicted these European regions. This had deprived them of the sense of meaning on which societies are founded and which enables them to integrate at least their own people, if not the foreign populations they should have been able to accommodate.

Although it had been imagined, and perhaps even feared, that this phenomenon of Sherwoodisation would lead to self-mobilisation and the emergence of leaders, Robin Hood figures who would be capable of restoring these groups to their place in society or leading them in rebellion, this did not happen. On the contrary, Sherwood became the breeding-ground for the nihilism that drove many individuals to take the drastic step of blowing themselves up in public places, using the resources of their underground existence and the Internet. At first, they carried this devastation into the insignificant little towns where they lived. Then they brought death and shame to the very heart of the great European cities which we gone to such lengths to turn into centres of technology, talent and tolerance – the very cities which, when they were eventually reformatted and spruced up, would make it possible to achieve the objectives of the Europe2050 programme, the Oslo process by which we would finally become the most competitive economy in the world… The thousands of victims, either killed or maimed, claimed in a few months by the attacks in Liège, Charleroi, Metz, Eindhoven, Gdansk, Turku, Stuttgart, Brussels (seven times), Prague (three times), London (six times), Paris (four times) and Berlin (five times), created an unprecedented sense of insecurity. The traditional and instinctive rejection of people of North African or Turkish origin appeared once again with a new acuity. It had the consequences that we have already discussed, including Turkey’s non-entry into the EU, but also the creation of a Fortress Europe where, following the Israeli model, physical walls sprang up at critical boundaries. Yet despite all of society’s efforts to lock down, the suicide attacks did not stop.

FACIES_EN

Technical Democracy

The makings of a solution came from Belgium – from Wallonia, to be precise. Seemingly an unlikely place to take liberties with democracy, this region, which still regularly emphasised its historical tradition of resistance to Nazism and its relative impermeability to the modern forms of fascism or populism, did not intend to see its economic restructuring efforts undermined by a process of which it had been one of the first victims after the attacks in Liège and Charleroi in 2021. In any case, even in the early 2010s, a form of wishful thinking (and sometimes a tendency to cite overriding national interests) had imperceptibly prevailed there and gradually silenced the voices of those who felt – or were felt to be – out of sympathy. It was based around the idea that it was necessary at all costs to save Belgium from its institutional crisis and show that the Walloon Region was on the way to inevitable economic recovery. True, some journalists, officials, experts or representatives of civil society had been tempted to qualify this proactive position. The hospitality extended by the Walloon Region to some of the major information and communications technology companies such as Microsoft, Google or Facebook, and its nursery of high-performance research laboratories where the desire to succeed or even the profit motive sometimes took precedence over academic ethics, all made it the perfect place to develop FACIES – the company and then the programme, based on web 3.2. This programme was applied experimentally in the Walloon Region for the first time in 2025. The process was in fact very simple and did not really require any great technological innovations: it was enough to connect all of the databases of individual IP addresses allocated to the smartphones – which it was mandatory to carry as they now served as ID cards – to the official portfolios assigned to each individual. These latter consisted of data collected on the social networks, to which every respectable citizen had to belong. The rest was a matter of internal security – by now a regionalised competence – and was child’s play: FACIES used the surveillance cameras that had multiplied still further since the attacks and the optical recognition of faces and general profiles. The General Executive Directorate (GED) for Security of the Wallonia Public Service (SPW) was able to intercept 90% of people who had not been clearly identified within five minutes of visualisation, and 88% of people whose electronic spot was going out in one of the SPW servers. Within five years, all inhabitants who were registered in this programme – 96% of the population in view of the collective desire to restore public security – had joined the Collective Sovereignty component of the Technical Democracy programme. Citizens had gradually learned to become involved in regional public affairs by answering simple questions which showed the government the way forward, following a principle known as Individualised Collective Intelligence (ICI). The first questions were simple and formulated with highly legitimate international consultants such as McKinsey and PriceWaterhouseCooper, supported by reputable polling organisations. They were along the lines of: Do you want to ensure the recovery of the Walloon economy? Or Does steel still have a future in Wallonia? They had then become increasingly complex, ending up with wording such as: Do you think it should be compulsory to share detached houses, and should this task be entrusted to the government? or Is it better to keep history and citizenship courses, or should this lesson time be given to Dutch or English teachers in order to improve employment prospects? Citizens had 24 hours to answer yes or no on the touch screen, which seemed more than enough. Parliament finally had a clear use, as its task was to throw light on the issue by gathering data and employing it in debates on two evenings between 7 and 8 pm, broadcast on the regional parliamentary television channel. Parliamentarians had become famous and formidable debaters, launching (rather like American TV evangelists) into lengthy arguments during which they no longer looked at their colleagues, but only at the camera. Other regions followed this pioneering initiative: Flanders, Brussels, the German-speaking region, Rhône-Alpes, Catalonia, Scotland, Lombardy, Baden-Württemberg, etc., and then some fifty others. This made a financial success of FACIES and led to economic benefits, as well as raising Wallonia’s profile. The experiments proved successful in terms of efficiency but also of transparency of public decision-making, and several countries decided to adopt FACIES, including Germany and France, which instinctively tried to impose it on the European Council and the Commission.

The President of the Council saw a unique opportunity for Europe to take a big step forwards and to build European democratic legitimacy by finally addressing the community of European citizens directly. FACIES had constructed its best tool: the European Continental Technical Democracy System (EuCoTeDeS), whose sovereignty over all other systems was approved by the Treaty of Minsk and ratified by the 38 within twenty-four hours.

At last, the United States of Europe had a president who could make decisions with legitimacy, efficiency and transparency… He was convinced he would be master of the ship… as long as he had the support of FACIES.

Having heard this account, I returned to earth in 2012. And I was suddenly seized with a doubt that made me rush onto the Internet and enter the address http://www.technical-democracy.eu

Happily, my screen told me: Server not found. Firefox can’t find the server at http://www.technical-democracy.eu.

For how long will we escape this pseudo-democracy? And under what conditions will we be able to do so? These are probably two of the main questions we will try to answer today. Two long-term issues, as the futurists say.

Thank you.

Philippe Destatte

@PhD2050

[1] Christophe LEJEUNE, Démocratie 2.0, Une histoire politique d’internet, coll. Espace de Libertés, Brussels, Editions du Centre d’Action laïque, 2009. – Chr. LEJEUNE, La démocratie parlementaire à l’heure des plateformes participatives et des réseaux sociaux sur internet, Colloquium Dialogue pour l’avenir de la démocratie en Wallonie, Parlement wallon – Institut Destrée, 16 September 2010.

[2] Michel FOUCAULT, Dits et écrits, vol. 4, p. 191, 728-729, Paris, Gallimard, 1994.

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