Policy Brief §2: Towards pan-European Liquid Democracy?

1-07Towards pan-European Liquid Democracy?,

Teodor Kalpakchiev, the-enpi.org

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


The potential underrepresentation of the Bulgarian diaspora, as well as exclusion of the anti-corruption pact, the alternative to European conservatism and the non-effectuation of a progressive liberal left necessitates the adoption of new patterns of inclusion in the decision-making process. Referenda are on the rise, yet an expensive democratic innovation within the confines of the country marked by centralization of political power, economic interests and the right to initiate legislative proposals. Regions are bereft of mindful individuals that generate economic revenues and thus rely extensively on subventions from the state. Hence, this dependence is subjected to the cooperation readiness of an actor with limited democratic legitimacy. Additionally, it has become clear that a nation- and political spectrum-wide consensus for the future development of the country is necessary. Bearing in mind the exponential advancement of digital technologies, as well as the e-government expertise accumulated in the previous partner of the Council Presidency Trio, Estonia, the challenge to democracy can currently be crumbled down to a number of fundamental questions:

How to ensure the efficient and continuous link between the voters’ constituency and the effects sought for initially?

How to increase the democratic legitimacy of strategies for regional and supranational development?

How to secure voters’ informed decision-making and the protection of their personal data?

Towards a Liquid Form of Democracy

What does liquid democracy entail? It can be described as a continuous, shapeless, decentralized process of preference formulation that allows for adjustment, should any substantial changes take place. It relies mainly on small scale, digitally confined establishments that allow a group of dissimilar interests with a locality to be crumbled down to numerical exemplification. The collective will of these sub-entities is collected and analyzed via a necessarily independent private operator, whose services are procured after a rigorous check from a supranational actor.

How will this work in reality? Each regional municipality creates a unit consisting of IT and big data professionals and applies for European funding to procure secure servers, the establishment of a database, an user-friendly site, USB-based digital signatures for each of its citizens, as well as any other technical equipment that might become necessary, such as an UPS.

Then, it creates a vision for the future development of the region based on alternating scenarios. These include sectoral policies that are vital for the implementation of the UN post-2015 development agenda, such as natural resource and food security, low-carbon adaptation as a pathway towards competitiveness, public health and fostering technological innovation, while adjusting each scenario for specialization possibilities. It prepares a sufficiently strong and wide-reaching communication campaign spanning over at least six months before launching its first public opinion drilling that is limited strictly to registrants in the region, who own property. The vote is recast up to three times, if less than a simple majority of the voters’ preferences is collected.

Defining Regional Development

Upon the selection of the regional specialization scenario, the municipality then goes on to restructure tax collection, while paying special attention to resource mobilization. Within a low-carbon adaptation scenario, this would mean for example shifting from taxing labour to shifting waste, the usage of resources and energy. Additional adjustments, such as the creation of regional markets for electrical and emission certificates, dropped down from the state platform for allocation will ensure that non-competitive and non-complying private actors are brought down to default. Emissions from cars, households and land use change and economic activities are collected and the biggest polluters are targeted with command and control policies for accelerated reductions. Any revenues from non-compliance are then reinvested into research and innovation, creating entrepreneurial hubs and sponsoring local businesses. Yearly reports based on predefined collectibles are then publicly presented in the state radio and television and voters are asked to adjust their preferences if not satisfied. Thus, the public body maintains continuously balance between a coercive form of executive implementation and societal interests.

Ensuring Data Security

The predominant necessity for a transition to a fluid, continuous and elastic process of decision-making would be data security and the enactment of independent overseeing and enforcement bodies, which would act in cases of disrespected codification. As starting point, one must underline that voting digitally would not be an economically viable system due to the high initial costs. Firstly, the government must procure a number of USB-based electronic signature certificates that is equal or higher than the number of the electorate with passive voting rights. The additional, resp. substitutive items must be kept safe in a vault. Each certificate must come with an initial password token enclosed in an envelope that allows the logging in into a web platform and the selection of a final password. The password would inquire the use of a range of characters. Its confirmation would ensue with the registration of a phone number for emergency contacts, which will receive a pin number, resp. a token. Each time one voting is required the person will enter the token and be redirected to a website, valid for one minute, which will require the use of the electronic certificate.  All data should be stored on servers, locked with access cards and pin codes and protected by security officers. Servers should have backups and UPS systems attached to them and be locked to each other with a chain. Two IT companies, working on Pen testing will be continuously checking whether the data could leak. Any update of the system will be conditioned to approval from system administrators with proven and experience and controlled impartiality. A national system with customer support will ensure that users understand how the system works.

The Responsibility to be Sufficiently Informed

Two inherent issues need discussion, in case these requirements take place. The first one is related to the transfer of responsibility from the electorate to the national parliamentary representatives. Psychologically speaking, the current state of democracy based on cyclic elections is a convenient way for the voters to seek responsibility from its delegates, while retaining none of it themselves. The problem lies in the fact that thus the voters are also bereft of the responsibility to remain rationally informed on the political processes and are counting on an often only allegedly independent judiciary to protect their interests. The key to democratization is in the debate that ensures democratic innovations, resp. its relegation from the parliament back to the citizenry.

It must, however, be accompanied by an overarching sense of justice. It would rely on the relegation of responsibility for being sufficiently informed back to the voter. Further, one must cater for the abolishment of the post-truth servility of traditional media to political interests and transforming them into businesses aimed at informing the society of the nature, alternatives and the consequences of their cast votes. The way to do that will be to 1) forbid any stimulus to purchase goods and services not related to the information itself, 2) use taxes for the equitable distribution of the information to those not being able to pay for it and 3) abolish national parliaments in small state entities, which are part of larger regional integration units. While being a contentious solution, the depoliticization of the information flow is largely contingent upon the abolition of local, largely non-representative political interests.  Within a digital voting system, regional and national parliaments could become redundant. Thus, the responsibility for taking informed decisions will be relegated back to the voters and will ensure their effective politicization.

The Pathway to Democratic Federalization of the EU?

While in this article I have discussed some technical, sectoral and ethical issues I had in mind the current shift in European governance, which is the overarching topic of the governance project of the ENPI. If the technical solution is applied on the level of Nuts 3 to Lau 2 (e.g. regions to municipalities) in all member states, it would result in a number of subsystems for the collection of voters’ will that could be used for the organization of pan-European referenda. While the European Commission has infrequently used its White Book card, the White Paper for the Future of Europe’s scenarios could easily be transformed into an online poll with short explanatory overviews of the consequences involved.

Once the pan-European citizenry decides on a scenario, the transition to the new form of statehood will follow suit.


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