1. Introduction: For Democracy to Be Possible, Technology Must Be Democratised.

Technology Is Essential

But it is only that: a possibility. Not a certainty, and, today, often not a reality.

Our civilisation heavily depends on technology. Technology provides us with the possibility to feed more than 7.5 billion people, to prevent or cure sickness, to multiply social and cultural interaction and creation, to care for those in need, to learn and teach more, to provide safety and security and to improve the quality of life and increase happiness in many ways for all.

DiEM25 is the one political movement that wants to create, shape and drive political debate and democratic process around technology, based on the concept of Technological Sovereignty. Technological Sovereignty in our definition means the right and capacity by citizens and democratic institutions to make self-determined choices on technologies and innovation.

Why? Because technology affects us all, and all of us, not just a powerful few, must have a voice in its development. For DiEM25, it is clear that without the introduction of technological sovereignty through the democratisation of technology, democracy itself is no longer possible.

The examples are manifold. We see monopolistic digital platform providers with tremendous powers to shape what we see, who we hear from or how we think, without any democratic accountability for that power. We become subject to automated decision-making, wrongly labeled “artificial intelligence”, functioning as a black box without any transparency or accountability.

But there’s more. We see how the costs of technology’s development and its usage are socialised, but the benefits are privatised to a very small group. We see how decisions on technological development are made by powerful, unaccountable private actors, and kept away from transparent and public debate.

Research and innovation must be beneficial for society and the prosperity of mankind. We must fight the absurd notion that the purpose of innovation is to make rich investors richer still.

We believe that start-ups and entrepreneurial process should not solely depend on venture capital and other financialisation schemes. The purpose of innovation is not only the aggregation of capital. To approach long-term solutions, we’ll need sustainable public funding and the democratic inclusion of citizens.

And we are told that we can change everything at any time, as long as we play by the rules of the status quo and come up with the next “disruptive” innovation by ourselves. But these rules do not allow us to put common goals first — and they exclude democratic participation by design. 

DiEM25 has a different vision. We know innovation can be beneficial to all. We want to end the practice of socialising the costs and privatising the profits from technological change. Instead, we want to foster innovations for the common good. We want to see an inclusive innovation ecosystem where all stakeholders, such as users, employees, citizens, and authorities are equally important. An inclusive system where women and other historically marginalised communities are empowered to actively participate in shaping our common technological future. A system in which society as a whole benefits from the liberated energy of socially responsible and democratically accountable entrepreneurs who are no longer shackled by the financialisation of their efforts. We believe in a positive and strong partnership of the public and private sector in creating and sharing knowledge, creativity, research, development, and innovation, to the benefit of the whole of society. And we also see the vast opportunities of commons and cooperative approaches that can be fostered with new technologies.

We are convinced that technological sovereignty through democratisation of technology is an absolute necessity for real equality in the technological era. We believe that Europe can become a beacon of hope if it unites political, social and technological progress — if it fosters a new enlightenment and puts the flourishing of all human beings in the centre of technological change. This could have transformative impact on a global scale.

The Relationship between People and Technology

Today people are increasingly defined as users or consumers of technology — sometimes even as the product itself — rather than citizens. Remember, when the service is free, you’re not the user, you’re the product.

But, as users, consumers or products, people are not empowered. They are not citizens who have a voice on how technology is shaped, who pays for it, and who benefits from it. They don’t get the real benefits of the knowledge, research and development funded by their tax money. They are effectively powerless against the monopolies of the platform giants.

DiEM25 wants technology to reflect the values and diversity of the society to which we aspire. Our different genders, ethnicities, capabilities, values and — most importantly — our dreams, shall be supported by technology. Technology has to be set up in such a way that it liberates and empowers each of us to fulfill our vast potential, both as individual citizens and as contributors to the collective good. And it must support the ecological and democratic transformations necessary for our society’s future.

That is only possible if we, as sovereign citizens, reclaim the ability to make self-determined choices, argue for different values and change the social and economic processes and powers that shape technologies. We can and shall develop technological citizenship in the 21st century, based on principles such as the commons, the capacity of self-organisation and the development of counter-power held by citizens and democratic institutions.

Technology has become a central form of power in society. This power must ultimately belong to the sovereign citizens of a technologised society.

Technology in DiEM25’s Progressive Agenda for Europe

DiEM25 believes that, in a technologised world, Europe must occupy an important place of humane and responsible technological progress in cooperation, not competition, with others.

Europe must use its assets, such as its strong research and innovation landscape, its public traditions, the knowledge of its citizens and NGOs, its humanistic culture, its diversity and its inventive capabilities. Europe must democratise technologies and innovation, put citizens before companies, sustainability before narrow profit and responsibility before technological feasibility. The alternative is to become overwhelmed by the undemocratic technological and social models we see in Silicon Valley and China.

These models favour the few and exploit the many and the living world. They benefit huge corporations who exploit publicly funded technologies, which they aim to optimise, with global reach, for their private profit. In these models, the values of a powerful minority shape the technological futures for the vast majority. They are models with contempt for democracy.

DiEM25’s Progressive Agenda for Europe demands a break with this model, and lays claim to technological sovereignty. Our European Green New Deal demands green innovation and a common share in the benefits of technological progress. Our European constitutional process will create a new digital public sphere. Transparent government requires transparent technologies. A dignified future for labour demands responsible technologies and a collective share in the benefits of automation. An ecological transition has to stop and prevent harmful technologies and foster sustainable alternatives. Culture shall be freely accessible, while cultural creation should be respected and rewarded. An open society that welcomes refugees and migrants needs to welcome technologies that can take part in human development. A feminist society committed to equality calls for technical solutions by, and for, people of all genders and sexualities.

Our vision of Technological Sovereignty demands that all of these perspectives shape innovation for the common good.

Last but not least, there is also a strong strategic case for Technological Sovereignty. No political movement will succeed without a strategy on how to deal with the changes that digitalisation and technological innovation have brought upon state, society and labour. In this paper DiEM25 presents ideas and strategies to democratise technology.