The inaugural U.S.-German Futures Forum, organized by the Bertelsmann Stiftung in cooperation with the German Federal Foreign Office, the U.S. Department of State, and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS), took place on November 2-3, 2022, in Münster (North Rhine-Westphalia), Germany.

In the 2021 Washington Declaration, the President of the United States and the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany established this new conference format – the annual U.S.-German Futures Forum – to strengthen the ability of the United States and Germany as free, democratic, and open societies to “jointly shape our shared futures by fostering dialogue on strategically significant issues of the 21st century.”

This year’s Futures Forum, The Future of Democracy in a Digital World, addressed the interplay of democracy and technology. This novel, high-level, and inter-generational conference focused on: 1) Creating lasting, solution-oriented connections to inform policy, 2) Strengthening societal preparedness and resilience, and 3) Expanding interpersonal exchange among individuals previously untouched by transatlantic policy dynamics.

Setting the Scene: How Germans and Americans feel about the state of democracy and the role of technology

Following opening remarks delivered by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann and German Ambassador to the United States Emily Haber, the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Isabell Hoffmann presented new data from eupinions’ latest survey: “Democracy, Digitalization, Dissatisfaction: knowledge, attitude and assessment in U.S. & German public opinion.” The data revealed how Americans and Germans feel about the state of their respective democracies and feelings about the impacts of digitalization and technology.

U.S. and German respondents are nearly split on the question of satisfaction with the state of their respective democracies. Specifically, just over half of Germans (54 percent) say they are satisfied with the way their democracy functions, nearly on par with 55 percent of Americans who say the same. They are also aligned in their opinions on digitalization, with the majority of Americans (69 percent) and Germans (67 percent) seeing it as an opportunity rather than a threat to democracy.

Generally, the results reveal many similarities between Americans and Germans. Still, remarkable differences appear when it comes to knowledge and self-confidence. Germans are significantly more familiar with the term digitalization (91 percent versus 50 percent), while Americans are clearly more confident that the U.S. can deal with technological change alone (62 percent versus 41 percent).

For a full view of the results, please view the study here: Democracy, Digitalization, Dissatisfaction? (

Workshop Conclusions

Over the course of the two-day conference, participants split up into four moderated workshops, ultimately culminating in a series of concrete recommendations devised by the participants:

1. Reinforcing Democracy at Home: Delivering Democracy Digitally

The establishment of an (inter-) governmental standardization body to ensure interoperability between public sector software systems in the U.S. and Germany could help each side learn from one another more effectively, participants concluded. To assist and support public servants at the national, state, and city levels in making decisions on technological investments, participants recommended that new public procurement institutions should be set up in both countries.

2. Advancing Democracy and Human Rights Online:

Participants suggested the development of global normative frameworks to increase and incentivize corporations' accountability and responsible behavior to address human rights online. Participants also suggested that the Freedom Online Coalition should expand its capacities to offer pro-democracy advocacy groups the necessary financial resources and support toward the active development of democracy-affirming technologies.


3. Defending Democracy: Countering Digital Authoritarianism and the Misuse of Technology

Participants encouraged new measures to enhance platform accountability and argued in favor of changes to the current business model of internet platforms, including mandating interoperability and reducing algorithmic amplification. Democracies could actively push back against information controls instituted by authoritarian governments by creating multilateral funding sources for open technology systems and increasing support for developing local circumvention tools.

4. Extending Democracy: Integrating Technology for Democracy in Development Efforts

Participants suggested the German and U.S. governments incentivize or subsidize technology models and platforms that are rights-respecting and work with technology providers to improve VPN access globally. Both USAID and the German Development Ministry could consider allocating funds for countries in the Global South to improve their own capacity-building toward developing digital policy positions – e.g., related to digital norms and standards – and amplify their views in the global context.

For a full overview of the workshop recommendations, please view: Strengthening democracy in a digital world - U.S.-German Futures Forum 2022: Participants' recommendations for concrete action - Federal Foreign Office .

the future of democracy
Münster, 3. November 2022: Deutsch-amerikanisches Zukunftsforum "The Future of Democracy in a Digital World" +++ Foto: Besim Mazhiqi

In the closing stages of the Forum, in a joint appearance, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delivered their perspectives on advancing shared democratic values in an increasingly digital world.

During Minister Baerbock's opening remarks, she outlined three points on technology and Germany's developing national security strategy. Specifically, she spoke about the need for democracies to use "digitalized democracy for the people and not against the people to have an open and safe cyberspace."

Her second point centered around the need to fight the threat of hate speech and disinformation online. Finally, her last point focused on the need to invest further in key technologies of the digital age, like "quantum computing, semiconductors, and 6G."

Secretary Blinken largely echoed Minister Baerbock's statements and emphasized, specifically, the need for cooperation in the area of technology and democracy. Secretary Blinken stated that no single country can confront these challenges alone, the United States and Germany included, and that to "the extent that values infuse technology, we need to make sure that the values we stand for, the United States and Germany, carry the day."

Furthermore, Secretary Blinken stated that the democratization of information technology has, on the one hand, been a positive development but also created an "information jungle" that can only be solved through cooperation by governments, the private sector, academia and NGOs. Secretary Blinken closed with: "Technology is neither inherently good nor bad. What we make of it is, and that's our challenge together."

Find the full conversation between Minister Baerbock and Secretary Blinken here: Remarks at a U.S.-German Futures Forum Moderated Discussion with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock - United States Department of State

Over the coming year, participants will reconvene in various formats, hosted by key stakeholders in the U.S.-German relationship, to discuss ways to implement the recommendations made during the conference. In 2023, the U.S.-German Futures Forum will take place in the United States. It will address an issue of salience to both governments to "fully utilize the expertise and innovative power of our societies and recommend solutions to jointly shape our future," as set out in the 2021 Washington Declaration.

About the author

Brandon Bohrn works as a project manager for the “Europe’s Future” program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. Recently, he helped to organize the inaugural U.S.-German Futures Forum, focused on promoting German-American cooperation in democracy and technology.

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