Making the EU Open-Source

There’s something profoundly essential that the digital revolution and democratic institutions share: they need active citizens' participation to avoid the concentration of power in the hands of a few. This is why, at Eumans, we are convinced both may benefit from a form of software that is also a philosophical claim for freedom: open source.

But, what does open-source mean? First, instead of keeping the source code of their software secret, companies or individuals open it to a global community of researchers and developers, who have direct access to and monitor its functioning. This technology has enabled the coding language Python, Firefox, and the very idea of the World Wide Web.  

Second, by giving free access to the source code, open-source software questions the control of big corporations over technological innovation, while promoting spontaneous collaboration and free exchange between individual developers. As suggested by Eric Steven Raymond, this opposition can be embodied by the difference between the hierarchic control of the cathedral (monopoly of big corporations) and the free exchange of the bazaar (democratisation of the source code) (1). 

Despite some risks, the open-source approach has undoubted benefits. It allows individual developers to scratch their itches (deal with their issues) while learning from a global community. Corporations and organisations can share development costs and gain access to the best talents worldwide. Finally, users are transformed into prosumers (both consuming and producing the service) who display various applications at reduced prices. 

What’s the point? Well, Eumans’ mission is to make the EU open-source. A widespread criticism against liberal democracies suggests hidden powers control them through indoor lobbying. Even though the EU’s institutions try to be transparent, they only let citizens passively monitor their work, and sometimes their decision-making processes are not disclosed to the public (e.g. informal dinners at the Council of the European Union). 

Conversely, direct democracy tools like popular initiatives, petitions, and ECIs would help European citizens change the EU’s ‘source code’ - its norms, laws, and values - by activating the spontaneous collaboration of people across the continent. 

As Lawrence Lessig argues, regulation is not limited to the law-making political process but it also involves the constraints represented by the market, social norms, and architecture (that is, the physical and “philosophical” infrastructure constraining how one can behave). In cyberspace, the latter is represented by code, the software and hardware that make virtual places what they are, and that enable or disable certain values and actions. And code is never found, it is always made, and made by humans (2). 

Simplifying, what is patently true in cyberspace can also be applied to “real spaces” that increasingly blend digital and concrete reality. We can build, or architect, or code the European Union to protect values that we believe are fundamental, and we can do it through politics. Here, again, it is worth lending Lessig’s words: “Politics is that process by which we collectively decide how we should live. [...]  The point is not the substance of the choice. The point about politics is process. Politics is the process by which we reason about how things ought to be” (3). 

Vaste programme, one may say. Yet, contemporary political challenges already threaten democracy and its popular legitimation. The only way out is to place citizens at the core of the democratic process. Only if they can access and modify the inner code of their institutions, citizens will become prosumers of democracy. Then, they will shape public services and the very democratic system thanks to their political activity. This is what Eumans stands for: activate popular participation tools to guide European democracy in the future


  1. E.S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 1999. 
  2. L. Lessig, Code: Version 2.0, New York, NY: Basic Books, 2006.
  3. Ivi, p. 78