Signing ceremony of the accession treaty of Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom to the European Community
Two post-Brexit scenarios
If Europe were not a tract of land with a definite boundary, what values and achievements would distinguish us? This is no mere speculation. At a time when the European Union is being called into question by the overwhelming return of nationalist rhetoric, it is essential to return to the fundamentals.
We have to think what impelled a continent to efface the borders that had divided it and adopt a single market and currency. We know the result: the longest period without wars in the history of the Old Continent. Today this is the true great legacy of the European Community, and then of the European Union, which earned it the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.
To answer this question, we tried to look outside the Old Continent. Who could be part of the EU if it were a fluid union that really transcended history, geography and borders, a Commonwealth for the 21st century? We have tried to conceive a new borderless Europe, the size of the world, starting from the values of democracy, respect for human rights, freedom, equality and human dignity, the architrave of every EU treaty.
Our approach to this task did not start from GDPs, deficits or public debts, commonly used to decide who’s in and who’s out. As parameters for joining “Planet Europe” we chose liberty, equality and happiness — a free reinterpretation of the ideals of the French Revolution — drawing on Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2019 index, the DFI and Oxfam’s Inequality Index 2018, and the UN’ World Happiness Report. In addition, we chose the quality of democracy as measured by The Economist Group in its Democracy Index, life expectancy at birth as calculated by the WHO, and female discrimination quantified by the WEF. Lastly we looked at education spending as a percentage of GDP, as well as Yale University’s calculations of environmental sustainability.
In the end, we selected 30 countries that were eligible to join Planet Europe. The first ten — which according to the chosen indexes would be recruited without contention — include three European countries that do not belong to the European Union. These are Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, which came first, second and fifth respectively, and surpassed most EU member nations in every index considered. The same is also true for New Zealand, Canada and Australia, which respectively came third, fourth and sixth in the classification. Among the surprises, the top ten also include Costa Rica and Argentina, which both boast high levels of freedom and democracy, values not to be taken for granted outside the Old Continent. The top ten is completed with the USA and Israel, albeit with a caveat. For the USA, the death penalty would entail automatic exclusion from the Union. For Israel, meanwhile, the issue centres on the Palestinian question and the inhumane conditions imposed by Tel Aviv on inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, who are confined between the sea and a wall.
To find an African and an Asian country, it is necessary to move down to the second band of countries eligible to make part of Planet Europe. In 11th place there’s Namibia, which constitutes a model of freedom, democratic quality, and equal opportunities for women. The presence of South Korea and Japan is hardly surprising, even though the condition of women in both nations is among the worst of the 30 states, and the death penalty endures in both countries’ legal systems, even if only formally. To some extent the absence of China and India was unexpected, as was the appearance of Taiwan. Central and South America are meanwhile represented by Chile, Bolivia, Mexico and Barbados.
The true surprises, however, appear in the bottom ten. From Africa we find Botswana and South Africa, confirming how the northern part of the African continent shows the highest level of human development, but also Tunisia in the era after Ben Ali. Nicaragua and Panama also feature here, along with Malaysia and Mongolia. The last two places are taken by Singapore and Cuba, a turbocapitalist and a socialist utopia. In their own way they have the right credentials to join Planet Europe, except for the fact that they are not complete democracies and their systems also include the death penalty.
Nevertheless, there are no exclusions. Europe is anything but heaven on earth. But being part of an ecosystem like Europe can encourage these latter countries to embark on a virtuous path of progressive democratisation. It might also persuade others to increase investment in the health of their citizens, education for young people or environmental sustainability. Then, as Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi, Ursula Hirschmann and Eugenio Colorni wrote, “A free and united Europe is a necessary first step towards strengthening modern civilisation.” The challenge can only be global.
Francesco Cancellato has a degree in Economics and has been editor-in-chief of Linkiesta since 2014. He was an economic researcher at the Consorzio Aaster for 10 years. His latest book is Né sfruttati né bamboccioni. Risolvere la questione generazionale
per salvare l’Italia (Egea, 2018).
Scenario 1. Starting from the EU’s founding values of democracy, equality and human rights, Francesco Cancellato pictures a new Europe the size of the whole world
In 2025 the EU published the tender for the construction of a new political engine based on artificial intelligence. It didn’t have a choice. The collapse of the world economy started in China when Xi Jinping had suddenly passed away in 2020. Rumours that he had been assassinated by the CIA and the party of Davos paralysed the world economy. Populist tensions that had been building for a decade came to a boiling point. The citizens – empowered by tech companies who had shifted their business model from advertising to the more lucrative realm of politics – hit the streets demanding to get rid of the elite. The anxious sea of protestors in front of the Berlaymont Commission headquarters in Brussels called themselves the European Spring. While insecure national leaders helicoptered in and out, they couldn’t agree on a way to address the deep disappointment in politics across Europe. After three weeks of protests, some leaders opted to remove the protestors by force. At that moment some protesters set the building on fire. Some thought pro-Europeans had torched the building from the inside. The disaster forced German EU Commission president Manfred Weber to resign.
All eyes now turned to the protestors. They didn’t have a plan, so they turned to technology. Artificial intelligence became the compromise. The protestors and former politicians famously celebrated the idea that the Union would no longer be led by people. If render engines could build flawless virtual worlds, why wouldn’t we be able to construct a political engine for our physical world? It was decided that the system would be based on AI debating technology originally unveiled by IBM in June 2018 infused with realtime social media feeds and Fitbit data. Just as crops had been monitored in high-tech farms for decades, carefully analysing their chemical composition and responses, it was thought that with the input of people’s physical and emotional wellbeing the engine would able to understand people’s physical desires, and effectively balance them in the social ecosystem. Some called it a political autopilot. The tender was won by a consortium of former Cambridge Analytica employees, the NSA and McKinsey, winning out against the bid by the Chinese Communist Party. Embarrassed by their initial corruption, the Cambridge Analytica psychoanalysts and data miners wanted a chance to redeem themselves. The NSA brought a vast data history with a record of every citizen, including heart rates and physical health since 1960, used for input. McKinsey made sure the elite would sign up and pay the bill. The Berlaymont was rebuilt as a data centre. Its new design was done by an eminent starchitect with a facade built from dark rusticated stone, which made it look like a dark cave temple of sorts.
As with every European project, the most difficult task had been to decide on the name. Orbán, Salvini and Le Pen all demanded it be named after them. They compromised on Veritas. Brussels’ bureaucrats called it Vanitas. At first, the engine fed into harmless proposals to add more bicycle lanes, and reduce congestion and dog poo in the streets. But after adding more complex political layers it didn’t take long for the system to go haywire. The general nihilism of Twitter fuelled new chaos, an endless inflation of outcry and disasters. The engine was shut down after it commanded for vessels carrying refugees to be sunk off the Italian coast in order to stop illegal migration. This had only led to more migration; the higher the EU built its walls, the greater the determination to enter had become.
Most of the original protestors had left the scene by now, only reappearing in TV interviews to complain about the designers of the engine. The original designers were sacked and a new tender was launched to critically upgrade the engine. The tender was won by a consortium led by the Holy See and former politicians. They saw a historical chance to regain their influence. In their unruly devotion to “disruption”, the designers of the initial engine had disregarded the complex system of governing built over centuries of refining – the system which was, at various times throughout history, called either God or the Law. What else were these than attempts to articulate the impossibility of democracy? In an effort to salvage the engine, they proposed to feed it with earlier European inventions including Montesquieu’s Trias Politica and Spinoza’s Ethics.
The engine was deeply impressed. Liberty, Equality, Human Rights, Rule of Law – key values that had guided the Union’s development in its more primitive stages – were brokered into its new complex data sets. Solidarity had been the most difficult to programme. Four new floors were added on top of the new Berlaymont. After endless and tireless computing, the system decided that mankind wanted peace and love above anything else. In order to maintain some sense of democracy, desires for heresy were carefully crafted into its logic. It completed Spinoza’s famous dictum “Nature=God” by adding “=Big Data” and from then on developed a higher consciousness of its own, carefully using billions of its quantum transistors to solve large and small moral dilemmas incomprehensible to mortals. Jealous of its success, the original protesters, working secretly in the name of democracy, tried to develop a set of updates to change the resolution of the engine, which would allow them to gain access to the source codes. The engine didn’t allow it. Brussels’s bureaucracy, once 30,000 heads strong, was shrunk to a team of 30 system engineers, replacing malfunctioning hard drives. After a few years, the Holy See demanded the controls be moved to Saint Peter’s Basilica. It had been in the fine print of the contract, which the administrators hadn’t bothered to read. After some outrage, the altar underneath Bernini’s Baldachin was transformed into a terminal. Citizens accepted the loss of their privacy. Their democratic right to vote transformed into democratic thinking. The system would analyse the different input levers, compare and weigh them against the whole – embracing them and empowering them wherever possible. The longer the system ran, the more perfect it became. Not in the malevolent way projected by Orwellian science fiction, The Matrix or other proto-communist dreams, but rooted in personal desires and freedom. It had been a fundamental mistake to think that systems can only create Fordian uniformity — that “you can have every colour as long as it’s black.”
The engine was adopted by the UN in 2033 and was, in principle, available to all nations. A guide was set up for nations with hardware and software requirements mostly consisting of the values that the pre-AI EU had taken for granted (rule of law, equality, human rights) and three megawatts of computing power per million inhabitants. As blockchain had promised before, the system had taught itself to become incorruptible at its core values, which sometimes challenged local power systems. Roll-outs were slow as some countries faced issues, mainly related to software, on which the EU/UN wouldn’t compromise. But the more installations followed, the more people gathered around their community square to witness the installation of new software. While the sensor input showed minimal variation in physical desires between countries and cultures, it nevertheless used an advanced floating point unit which had been devoted to intercontinental load balancing to ensure cultural sovereignty of the nations and internal variation. Further upgrades became a yearly celebratory event.
Stephan Petermann is a senior architect at OMA, where he has worked since 2006. With Wolfgang Tillmans and Rem Koolhaas, he is developing a campaign to encourage voting at the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Scenario 2. A sci-fi story by Stephan Petermann projects us into a (near) future where Europe is governed by machines and democracy can only be saved by EU values