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EURODIG Tbilisi 2018: Positioning in the New Complexity of the Global Internet Governance Ecosystem

Wolfgang Kleinwächter

Early June 2018 the European Internet community traveled into the Caucasian Mountains to participate in EURODIG 11. On its way into the digital age, Europe is, as EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said, at another crossroad. In cyberspace, Europe risks becoming sandwiched between US and Chinese Cyberpower policies. Social networks, search engines, smartphones, eTrade platforms — key sectors of today's digital economy — are dominated both by the US and Chinese giants: Alibaba and Amazon, Google and Baidu, Facebook and Weibo, Apple and Huawai. And it is also clear, that the 2020s global political agenda will be determined by issues like cyberwar and digital trade where the United States of America and the Peoples Republic of China will be the main competitors. Insofar EURODIG was a good opportunity to discuss the role of Europe in this forthcoming very complex cyber powerplay.

EURODIG is the European regional version of the UN based Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The 11th edition in Tbilisi, Georgia, saw 800 registrations from more than 50 countries, representing all stakeholder groups. And the agenda covered nearly everything: from cybersecurity and digital trade to artificial intelligence and human rights. EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel called EURODIG "the most successful and most relevant regional initiative on Internet Governance." And indeed, over the years, EURODIG has innovated the IGF processes with new ideas: interactive formats of sessions, tangible output in form of clear and short messages, a youth IGF, open calls for themes, decentralized and bottom-up management procedures.

However, the Tbilisi meeting also showed that the IGF community, which has grown substantially since the days of the 2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), is now also partly the victim of its own success. There is a risk that the "usual suspects" of the global Internet Governance debate, who have been the drivers of discussions in the past, are sidelined and substituted by new communities which represent new powerhouses from governments and businesses. Those powerhouses have their own new agendas and tend to ignore widely what has been achieved over the last two decades in building a functioning Internet Governance ecosystem.

Reinventing the Wheel?

For years the message from EURODIG and the IGF was: Internet Governance is a big political issue and the multistakeholder approach is an innovation in global policymaking. 15 years after the WSIS I, world leaders have now recognized that the internet is indeed a big issue — they call it now "cyber" or "digital" — and they discuss it at summit meetings like BRICS, G7 or G20. But they have partly different ideas how to manage this network of networks. They pay lipservice to the multistakeholder approach, but the reality is that the majority of governments prefer to negotiate Internet-related issues behind closed doors.

This is the case if it comes to cybersecurity where a UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) tried to define rules of the road for the cyberspace. This is the case for digital trade, where the intergovernmental World Trade Organisation is negotiating behind closed doors frameworks for eCommerce. Both issues have been discussed since years both at the IGF and EURODIG. And agreements which have been achieved in this global Internet Governance debate are certainly also relevant for cybersecurity and digital trade.

The Tunis Agenda (2005) has defined what Internet Governance is and has invited both state and non-state actors to participate — in their respective roles — in the development of Internet-related public policies. The NetMundial Declaration (2014) has defined fundamental principles for good behaviour in cyberspace and has specified guidelines for multistakeholder cooperation as openness, transparency, bottom-up and inclusive. ICANN's IANA transition (2016) has demonstrated the feasibility of multistakeholder cross-community processes by transferring the responsibility for the management of key global Internet resources — domain names, IP addresses, and Internet protocols — to the empowered community (which include also governments in their respective role).

But the new intergovernmental negotiating bodies which are dealing now with cybersecurity and digital trade are rather dislinked from IGF and ICANN processes. What we see is that new intergovernmental silos are emerging and the risk is growing that in all those new closed silos the cyberwheel is reinvented.

This new intergovernmental silo approach could become a big problem. The Internet is a network of networks, everything is connected with everything via protocols and codes. This has consequences for Internet-related public policies. In the analog world, security issues had only little to do with trade, environment or freedom of expression. In the digital world, those issues are interconnected as the new EU data protection legislation (GDPR) is demonstrating. The regulation of a human rights issue — privacy — has far-reaching consequences for the business model of internet corporations and the security agenda of law enforcement agencies. And this is valid also the other way around. Any cybersecurity treaty will have economic implications and touches human rights. And agreements on digital trade will have a cybersecurity component and will also have consequences for human rights.

In other words, the big challenge with the Internet Governance Ecosystems and its growing complexity is not only to include all stakeholders in their respective roles in policy development and decision making but also to inter-link the new emerging intergovernmental silos and to pull them into a multistakeholder environment. What is needed is a holistic approach to global Internet negotiations as it was also recognized during the recent Bratislava meeting (May 2018) of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace.

The Need for a Holistic Approach

How to organize such a holistic approach? The first step has to be to enhance communication among all governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. Decisions can be made only on an informed basis. No single stakeholder has all the knowledge and all the capacities which are needed to find sustainable solutions.

There is a need for something like a "global clearinghouse" which identifies the key components of an issue before decisions are made. But wait a minute, such a "clearinghouse" does already exist. If we would not have the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), there would be a need to invent it now. The IGF and its regional and national subsidiaries — like EURODIG — provide the needed framework for such a discussion across constituencies, stakeholders, state and nonstate organizations. The problem is that some governments and some business underestimate the potential of the IGF and are looking for alternative venues.

It is certainly true that the IGF has some weaknesses. The UNCSTD IGF Improvement Working Group has made some recommendations which have been reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly in its WSIS+10 Resolution in December 2015. Progress is slow but there is improvement: More intercessional work, more tangible output, more interlinkage with national and regional initiatives. And we see as EURDOG in Tbilissi has demonstrated, a more interactive cross-community debate, the involvement of more young people and the ability to send 62 short and concrete messages to all stakeholders which tell them what they could and should do in fields like cybersecurity, digital trade, artificial intelligence or human rights.

The new UN Internet Commission, which will be probably established under the guidance of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guiterres by the forthcoming UN General Assembly in fall 2018 would be very wise if it would push for a strengthening of the IGF process and to recommend to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders not only to deepen the multistakeholder cooperation but to argue also in favor of a holistic approach.

A new Round of Controversies?

However, recent meetings on the highest political level did send some contradicting and confusing messages to the global Internet community.

On the one hand, the leaders of the G7 — including US President Trump, French President Macron and the German Chancellor Merkel — during its meeting in June 2018 in Canada remained silent with regard to cybersecurity and digtal trade, but agreed on a "Commitment on Defending Democracy from Foreign Threats" which included the establishment of "a G7 Rapid Response Mechanism to strengthen our coordination to identify and respond to diverse and evolving threats to our democracies, including through sharing information and analysis, and identifying opportunities for coordinated response… in collaboration with governments, civil society and the private sector". The G7 wants to "engage directly with internet service providers and social media platforms regarding malicious misuse of information technology by foreign actors, with a particular focus on improving transparency regarding the use and seeking to prevent the illegal use of personal data and breaches of privacy."

On the other hand the leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) — including Chinese President Xi, Russian President Putin and India's President Modi — during its parallel meeting in China supported "the central role of the UN in developing universal international rules and principles as well as norms for countries' responsible behaviour in the information space." They advocated for "the establishment of a working mechanism within the framework of the UN". And they argued that "a governing organization established to manage key internet resources must be international, more representative and democratic."

What does this mean? Is this the kick-start for a re-opening of the ICANN vs. ITU controversy? It could become a "hot fall" for Internet discussions.

In October 2018 there will be ICANN's High-Level GAC Meeting in Barcelona. The other week ITU's Plenipotentiary Conference starts in Dubai. Mid-November 2018 will see the IGF in Paris. And at the end of November 2018, the leaders of the G20 meet in Buenos Aires. Let's wait and see how the Internet world looks in December 2018.

A Chance for Europe

In this process, Europe has a chance to become a driver and pioneer.

1. Europe's strength is the rule of law. European institutions — from the Council of Europe with the European Court of Human Rights to the institutions of the European Union with the European Parliament, European Commission and European Court of Justice have produced instruments and offer procedures which make clear that cyberspace is not ruled by the "law of the jungle". GDPR is an interesting case and it remains to be seen how this European regulation contributes to more stability in cyberspace. It is a complicated issue and slippery territory but there is a need for rules-based frameworks also for issues like cybersecurity, taxation, fake news, hatespeech and others.

2. Europe's opportunity is industry 4.0, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. To link Europe's manufacturing industry to digitalization has a lot of potential. Europe has a highly developed educational system which is able to produce the skill sets needed for tomorrows digital economy.

3. But Europe's weakness is to translate good ideas into concrete policies and projects. The 28 member states of the EU have declared the establishment of a Digital Single Market as a high priority. Under the Estonian EU presidency (Fall 2017) there was a "Digital EU Summit". There is some progress, but progress is slow. And Europe has an implementation problem.

Looking into the coming months, there is a window of opportunity for a big European Cyber initiative which could include also proposals for a holistic approach to global Internet negotiations. When the French president Macron announced that Paris will host this year's IGF in Paris (November 2018) he also indicated that time is ripe to speed up Europe's journey into the digital age. After Paris, The Hague will host EURODIG 12 in June 2019. And the 14th IGF is scheduled for Berlin (November 2019). What is needed now on the road to Paris, The Hague and Berlin is more European steam.

By Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Aarhus He is a member of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, was a member of the ICANN Board (2013 – 2015) and served as Special Ambassador for the Net Mundial Initiative (2014 – 2016). Visit Page
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