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Welcome to the year 2048!

Verena Ringler reports from a possible European future, with EU governments prioritising political and civil concerns over politics of fear.

Magazine > Voices > Welcome to the year 2048!

Looking back, we remember that Emmanuel Macron called for a bold European agenda at the European Parliament in April 2018. He said, “the answer to the authoritarianism that surrounds us is not authoritarian democracy, but the authority of democracy.”

Soon afterwards, Macron appeared at one of the large, multi-stakeholder European consultations for our common future. He was asked where Europe had taken wrong turns.

He said: “Peak Europe has already happend. We have already witnessed the pinnacle of a free and prosperous Europe. This was on New Year’s Eve 2004. Back then, the EU had just expanded to include ten new member states, we had an EU Constitutional Treaty awaiting final ratification, general economic growth – particularly in tech– and trade on our stock markets was booming. Then came 2005. People in France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitutional Treaty. The outcome of these referendums in two of the 25 EU member states was a huge blow. It paralysed the European Union so badly that we entered what we later called a “lost decade.”

After 2005, we had contradictory ideas about the foundations of the EU and about the eurozone, but we were set on moving forward, whatever happened. It became ever harder to achieve this goal. Financial and government debt crises. The banking crisis. Youth unemployment. Outdated education systems. The arrival of refugees. Major issues such as digitisation, climate change, artificial intelligence. The end of the West and the Western liberal order. China on the ascent. Trump in power. Europe “home alone”. Authoritarian tendencies at every corner.”

French President Emmanuel Macron delivering a speech during the One Planet Summit 2017. Photo: © Ludovic Marin / AFP / picturedesk.com.

These were Macron’s words back in 2018, and he went on to say, (I imagine): “The secret of European integration from the outset has been the concept of merging, of mutualising seemingly antagonistic partners. Seven decades ago, this meant integrating the French and German coal and steel industries. The task was to transform a machinery of war into a machinery of peace. Today, it’s thus our task to integrate those core spheres that will make the difference between Europe’s future and Europe’s demise. We cannot march into the future walking on a turf war! On the one hand, national governments and their attached infrastructure, institutes, individuals, and industries are lobbying to respond to world events and disruption through a national and often deeply regressive prism. They are keen to cling to the levers of power and short-termism. On the other hand, we have the spheres of transnational engagement, of Strategic Foresight, open innovation, agile teams and fast prototyping, sustainable urban and regional development, slow food and electromobility movements, of new democracy and participation, of millions who have joined peaceful contemporary protest camps in the past years. Bottom line, we have to give priority to the question of living together. What does it say about us, when we know more about far-off galaxies, 3D printer, and the human genome than about our own neighbours?”

Macron thus went beyond the original idea of his consultations. He soon set out to facilitate an exchange between the Europe of particular interests – major industrial and financial capital, national governments – and those who strive to protect and to further the common interest, including public goods and the commonwealth of future generations. The idea was to renegotiate these interests in a range of sectors from health to banking.

He was one of the first politicians to criticize that the European governance agenda had been largely securitized in that era. This means that governments quite liked to transform matters of governance (strategy, borders, migration, diversity) into matters of security. This enabled them to use extraordinary means in the name of security.

Around 2018, we eventually changed course and claimed, as citizens, the European agenda. In fact, we had been prepared: for an evolution rather than a revolution, for an ambitious overhaul of our democratic infrastructure and our bodies of knowledge. We geared up for new processes by building on established strengths and our wealth of experience. Thousands of us set out to build Pitch Europe, a bold European agenda by the people, a European pitch to the global marketplace of world (dis-)orders at the time.

For the last 30 years, we have fortunately placed great emphasis on shaping Pitch Europe. We were to focus on processes and pathways rather than final policies and products. We increased our interest in “input legitimacy”, i.e. what we put into a negotiation at the outset. Today, in 2048, we always ask: “Who is at the table? How shall we thus negotiate to achieve our goals?”

Let us illuminate seven hallmarks of Europe today, in 2048.

1. We bring citizen voices to power

Open Situation Room

In 2014, Stiftung Mercator, a private German foundation, joined forces with the German Foreign Office to pilot the Open Situation Room, which has since been realized on numerous occasions. A decision-maker spends three hours with a diverse group of 35 volunteers for a speedy and structured brainstorming session in places such as Dresden and Leipzig, at the Munich Security Conference and at the Global Media Forum. The groups use the Design Thinking methodology to collect multiple, lateral response propositions to wicked problems or crises in international affairs. The format thus harnesses the variety of toolkits and experience from different branches and disciplines for the domain of government and diplomacy.

We make use of the voices, skills and the wealth of experience and expertise of our citizens. Take these four examples:

Today, in 2048, you and your children, or grandchildren, are presumably active in the municipal council for up to two years, thanks to the new lay jury system. Comparable to the polis in ancient Greece, randomly selected citizens join the municipal council on a rotation, in order to help prioritise important decisions concerning the municipality. Your children and grandchildren are probably also members of the European Club. Anyone who once took part in Erasmus, Leonardo, Youth in Action or any other European exchange programme is subsequently invited to be part of this large advisory circle. Back in our day, we had the Lions Club or the Rotary Club; today, young and old alike belong to the European Club.

Let’s recall how the Club came about: in 2017, the Erasmus programme celebrated its 30th anniversary, but the EU understood they had never collected the addresses of their millions of alumni, let alone any information on how these people had been developing professionally and vis-à-vis the European cause. Since the foundation of the Club – i.e. since 2020 – I am busy every Thursday evening from 7-9 p.m. We can either meet in virtual conference rooms, talk via telephone conference, or online, to discuss how to strategically tackle European issues with other members of the club. Why this Club? “An exchange student for once; an EU consultant forever.”

Several years ago, we also set up the Open Security Council to complement the UN Security Council. Think of it as a contemporary version of the UN model. In exceptional circumstances, the Open Security Council also convenes meetings within 48 hours and considers formulating an international response to the situation in question. This Council, however, does not consist of representatives from states, with the same five states still wielding the power of veto. Instead, the Open Security Council made up of a heterogeneous group of lay people from around the world. They volunteered to be added to this data pool for global emergencies as part of the programme Design Thinking for Peace, initiated by the EU.

Eventually, every four years, we hold the Democracy Biennale in Venice. It’s a European showcase of activities organised by citizens to shape processes, foster participation and bring about social and political innovation. Why this? Several years ago, we asked ourselves why we knew so little about the sphere of innovation referenced by Macron. Then it dawned on us: all of the industries and sectors had their moment in the spotlight, except from the democracy scene. The literati had book fairs, the world of theatre its eminent theatre houses and companies. Cineastes rallied at film festivals, architects and artists at the biennales. The first Democracy Biennale was curated by Ulrike Guerot, who had already written in 2015/2016 that Europe had to become a republic.

Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0) Gregor Fischer/re:publica
re:publica is one of the world's most important conferences on the topics of the digital society and in Verena Ringler's sketch of utopia one of the predecessors of a Democracy Biennial. Here is a picture of the opening panel of the #rp18. Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0) Gregor Fischer/re:publica.

2. The non-profit single market

Today, in 2048, we have reached a point in Europe where there is as much awareness, as much focus on, and equal financing instruments and budgets for projects pertaining to our coexistence as there is for projects in technology, natural sciences, and medical research. A wealth of opportunities has finally opened up to the civic innovation and non-profit sector.

You remember people who had been involved in initiatives ranging from Refugees Welcome, to Amnesty International, and to the political and social innovation for a such as Geneva’s LIFT Conference, Vienna’s Pioneers Festival or Impact Hub Network, or, the Ashoka Network. In late 2018, they joined forces in a campaign for the non-profit single market. Why? Well, they had realized that the four freedoms of the EU single market apply only to economic transactions, not to non-profit work or benefit. Europe needs a non-profit single market just like it has a for-profit single market! Until then, every non-profit product, service, association, or community foundation had to be registered separatedly in all EU member states. These non-profit oriented organisations, however, lacked the resources, personnel, and know-how to deal with the peculiarities of each country’s non-profit sector.

In retrospect, it was pretty astounding that the citizens of Europe had never gotten upset about this before. Eventually, until 2019, EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans reformed the European Citizens’ Initiative. A statute for European associations was created, as well as a non-profit private limited company for the whole of the EU and a statute for European foundations. Today, in 2048, the single market’s four freedoms apply to the whole non-profit sector, from human rights groups to social innovation players.

By the way: for many years now, it is citizens (not national governments) who decide in participatory budgeting processes where the EU budget of one trillion euros shall go first.

Do you remember the comparison made with CERN back then? Everyone praised news coming out of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, with its vast particle accelerator in Switzerland. We asked in the 2020s: Why don’t we have a CERN for our questions on government and social organisations in Europe? Why was public money spent on humanistic, socio-scientific and socio-political concerns so tiny in comparison to technology and natural sciences research?

Photo: (CC BY 2.0) Alper Çuğun/Flickr
Particle accelerator of the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN. Photo: (CC BY 2.0) Alper Çuğun/Flickr.

Bottom line, we have aligned Europe’s non-profit agenda with Europe’s for-profit agenda. For every euro we invest in Europe in technology, sciences and medical research, we allocate another euro to issues concerning our coexistence, our communities and public welfare. As a result, one of the century’s most problematic issues – the Internet – is now in good hands.

3. The European Internet Institute

The European Internet Institute has existed for more than two decades. Today, in 2048, our top European politicians know that the eyes of the world are upon Europe and view it as a leading global force when it comes to norms and standards. We can also recall a time over 30 years ago when the issue of how to govern the Internet in Europe had long been neglected. The Internet Governance Forum was held in Mexico in 2015, a kind of world climate summit organised by the Internet governance scene, and not a single member of the German federal parliament was there! Politicians had left the technology pioneers to their own devices for many years. It was not until the data theft disaster of 2020 that we finally woke up. We referred to it as our “Internet Chernobyl”. We certainly sprang into action after that.

This is why today, in 2048, we have the European Internet Institute. The institute ensures that the gains we make from modernising the digital world and from scaling artificial intelligence mechanisms are mutualised, rather than privatised. The institute provides all European parliamentarians with neutral and factual information on digitisation and keeps out private companies. We drew inspiration from Finance Watch when setting up the Internet Institute, i.e. we aimed to provide Europe’s MPs with an independent, specialised information centre on a field of policy where lobbyists like to wield a major influence. In the case of financial policy, for example, around 2015/2016 private pressure groups in Brussels had access to funds of 120 million euros a year, i.e. over 60 times more than the budget of Finance Watch.

4. Europe on the global stage

This takes us on to the next point: Europe on the global stage. The EU now pursues a global strategy with the motto: “Shrinking strategically.” 30 years ago, we said to ourselves: if we are already all that is left of the “liberal Western world”, if we are facing such a drastic demographic, economic and general decline, then let’s make a virtue of necessity. Let’s turn the tables and make a conscious decision to shrink! We’re taking a positive, strategic and assertive approach to shrinking. We have thought rigorously about our own material and non-material comparative advantages. We’re scaling back and focussing on our core competences when it comes to our global presence! Small is beautiful. Europe must become like Switzerland!

Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0) Maria Firsova/Flickr.
The University of Bologna is considered to be the oldest university in the world. Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0) Maria Firsova/Flickr.

Since then, we have placed our 1000 year old universities and the principles of free university tuition and academic freedom in the spotlight. We are generously equipping our public universities instead of starving them of resources. We have been sharing our uniquely European experiences with other societies, such as regional development planning, dealing with the past, or the way we employ ethics commissions. We are offering other countries and regions the chance to share the know-how we have acquired on supranational, participative democracy and open diplomacy. We have pushed both public and civic diplomacy. Worldwide, there are now over a million European libraries and European film festivals curated by groups of young people!

Now, in 2048, we can finally say: fortunately, we did not let the European project jump over the cliff edge in an era where the hopes of the world were resting on the shoulders of Europe as a refuge and guarantor of freedom and democracy. For almost three decades, the appreciation of freedom and democracy and its practical implementation in daily life has also been an integral part of the syllabus at our schools.

5. Reorganisation of the education system

Today, in 2048, learning about Europe is a key part of the school curriculum for our children and grandchildren. We have consolidated all of the individual disciplines which had been offered independently and often as part of extra-curricular programmes by the cultural, social affairs and educational ministries, the various federal chancelleries and regional and non-state actors. These included intercultural training, courses on democracy, citizenship training, programmes to promote active citizenship, courses to combat online hate speech and cyberbullying, and anti-racism workshops.

We largely abandoned the syllabuses used by the institutions. Instead, we decided that it was essential to make learning about Europe central to the school curriculum. At the heart of the matter here is the ability to coexist. At the heart of the matter is, in fact, a basic cultural skill. The core of “European-ness” is the willingness to work together. To enable European civic education, we must teach our children how they can influence and shape their environments – from their kindergarten classes to their neighbourhoods – and their futures. Education on civic matters was thus transformed into education on European matters, which in turn became an interdisciplinary subject.

A school project during the European Capital of Culture RUHR 2010. In Verena Ringler's imagined future, living together in Europe will be a main subject in schools. Photo: (CC BY-ND 2.0) die.tine/Flickr.

Practical experience also came to play a far greater role. I’m sure that your children and grandchildren have already taken part in Expedition Europe, the largest, experience-based initiative in the field of civic education and youth work, covering an area from Helsinki to Naples. Since 2020 European schoolchildren have spent one week per year to identify and spot all the material and non-material traces of Europe in their towns or municipalities. This involves calling the social welfare office and the mayor’s office and carrying out interviews, visiting youth clubs and music schools, urban planning offices and registration offices. We publish the results each year in the European Index of Municipalities. This has significantly boosted the spirit of competition between the municipalities. The expedition embarked on by our schoolchildren has thrown light on the often invisible traces of statehood and supranationalism in our own cities. Since then, there has been a significant rise in the number of people who identify with Europe.

6. Reorganisation of public administration and politics

We have reorganised our public administrative and political bodies. We have europeanised them. We have torn down the walls between the individual ministries and disciplines and acknowledged the fact that each policy on Europe and each policy for the future is also a cross-cutting policy.

The situation of teachers and civil servants has also undergone radical changes. In 2017, less than two to three percent of civil servants in the German ministerial bureaucracy changed ministry or institution over the course of their careers. Do you have any teachers or civil servants in your family? Today, in 2047, they have all been integrated into a rotation system. Now they are required to make a change every 14 years at the latest, but ideally every seven years: they can either work in another EU country, change their specialisation or the level of public administration, i.e. moving from regional/local to national or European level and vice versa.

In order to europeanise those who have full-time positions governing and shaping Europe, we have changed the training roadmaps in politics and administration. Knowledge of processes, methods and formats is now a core component of all training courses and we place great value on experience-based learning and practical application. Anyone who wants to become a high-ranking civil servant or headteacher is first of all required to embark on a “journey” through two or three sectors. They are placed in small and medium-sized businesses, such as workshops or farms, in the social or care sector, and in public institutions. This gives them insights into the world of the beneficiaries. If a person plans to work in administration and politics, it makes sense for them to experience the viewpoint of the “clients”, or citizens. Fortunately, the process set in motion by Macron has meant that “human-centred policymaking” – i.e. politics and administration designed with the end consumers, or citizens, in mind – has become the preferred approach in all areas.

7. The democracy insurance

© CEU/Zoltan Tuba

Sanctuary cities

Sanctuary cities is the term used to describe a global network of cities and communities which strive to guarantee access for all residents to public services and refuse to enforce repressive measures against illegal immigrants or assist in deportations.

The Central European University in Budapest (Photo: © CEU/Zoltan Tuba) has adopted the model of sanctuary cities and has become the first sanctuary Europe space.

We now have a democracy insurance. Around the year 2018, many citizens of Hungary and Poland asked: how is it possible to go to sleep in a democracy at the heart of the EU, and to wake up in an autocracy? What is the use of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Declaration of Human Rights if, in the 21st century, a single person is able to impose their illiberal order and despotic rule? And then along came an innovative idea. The Central European University (CEU), which had actually been earmarked for closure and for changing locations, was turned into the first sanctuary Europe space, inspired by the model of the sanctuary cities.

In the US, under the presidency of Donald Trump, sanctuary cities became spaces which aimed to safeguard a pluralistic, peaceful and democratic way of life. In Europe in 2018, there were also around 80 of these cities. Then a university followed, and the network grew. The concept of sanctuary cities was the inspiration behind the idea of Sanctuary citizenship and the sanctuary passport. Today, this passport is handed to EU citizens whose national governments have ridden roughshod over the will of the electorate, as it were. These people are issued with the passport as a result of the democracy insurance.

What a fuss this idea caused: unthinkable! Impossible! How on earth will that work? A democracy insurance? But then we remembered how no one had dared to dream of the introduction of the social security system at the beginning of the 19th century. Spurred on by Macron’s European initiative, experts on constitutional law and citizenship joined forces with anti-racism and diversity specialists to reflect on how this kind of transitory citizenship could work. The result for EU citizens was the following: Anyone who is unhappy with their national passport can make use of the protections afforded to them by the EU passport. This also applies to tax and pension payments, which are then also made directly to the EU and paid out directly by the EU. I read recently that, since 2035, more residents have opted for EU citizenship as their primary citizenship than their national one. This was probably the result of studies conducted by the German consumer organisation Stiftung Warentest from 2030 to 2034 comparing EU and national citizenship from Palermo to Györ and from Biarritz to Gdansk. The result: EU citizenship received the verdict “very good” in 7 out of 10 cases.

Allow me to recap my key points: today, in the year 2048, we, the citizens of Europe…

  • have a say at all levels of governance from municipalities to the UN Security Council, we have founded the European Club of EU exchange programs alumni. Every four years, the Democracy Biennale takes place in Venice.
  • have a suitable arena for our activities, i.e. the non-profit single market, as well as adequate research and funding concerning questions and matters that are central to our coexistence. Also, citizens decide over the use of the EU budget (e.g. for regions, for youth) in participatory budgeting processes.
  • strive to mutualise the modernisation gains from digitalisation and artificial intelligence thanks to the Europan Internet Institute.
  • decided to pitch the European governance model proactively on the world stage. We focus on our strengths and our hidden champions not just in the private sector but also in the supranational public sector and our universities.
  • have made Europe an integral part of the school curriculum, focussing on complexity management and cooperation, conflict and crisis management. It is a hands-on subject which involves schoolchildren embarking on Expedition Europe in their own towns and cities.
  • have introduced a clever rotation system for civil servants and teachers. Over the course of their careers, they are required to change location and/or their area of specialisation.
  • have made the democracy insurance a reality. Inspired by the idea of sanctuary cities, we developed ourconcept of sanctuary citizenship. This means that an individual is directly protected by EU law. Today, in 2048, sanctuary citizenship is more pouplar than the original national citizenship models were.

What did Pitch Europe achieve in these 30 years? We have fundamentally remodelled Europe. We are doing things in a different way to make things different: both inside as well as globally.

This text is based on a speech given by the author on 28 April 2017 at the Tage der Utopie festival at the Bildungshaus St. Arbogast in Vorarlberg and protected by copyright: © Verena Ringler. If you are interested in republication, please contact the editorial team.
Copyright information on pictures, graphics and videos are noted directly at the illustrations. Cover picture: re:publica (#rp17) in Berlin. Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0) re:publica/Gregor Fischer.