Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am sorry I cannot be with you for this Internet Governance Forum, in particular at such a
critical time for the Internet. I greatly enjoyed the last three meetings, and I very
much hope to see you at another occasion, very soon. The Internet continues to be of immense strategic
importance: as an economically essential modern marketplace, as a support for all aspects
of our society, and as a forum for democratic discourse.
It is vital that it continues to function correctly. And the EU’s goal remains to support
that, without undue government control. Much has changed since last year. We have
seen increased awareness of how important the Internet is for all countries. We have
seen, at the WCIT conference in Dubai, the risk of the world splitting in two, according
to how regulation for the Internet is perceived. We have seen allegations of the sheer scale
on which governments use the internet for intelligence gathering. There have been unfortunate
reminders of the failures of multi-stakeholderism as currently practised, such as when ICANN’s
Governmental Advisory Committee ignores legitimate government concerns. And there has been recognition
of the problems these issues pose, from the very highest levels.
In short, there have been a series of blows to the credibility of the current system of
internet governance. And an increasing perception that some particular countries retain undue
rights over this resource. The Internet is an open forum: a unified,
democratic platform for the free exchange of ideas. It should remain as such; it cannot
and should not become a theatre of combat, an instrument of terror or a weapon of war.
But this does not mean that there is no need for new rules. The more Internet pervades
our lives, the more it raises questions, including for those institutions designed for a world
without Internet. We need a set of rules at international level that can follow the cross-border
aspects of the web. For governments and for private business. And we must have rules that
protect the privacy of users worldwide. To design these rules, we must not take potentially
damaging unilateral decisions — but remain open to a multi-stakeholder model where all
can participate. A forum where all voices are heard. Among those voices must undoubtedly be those
of governments. They should not dominate or abuse the Internet. But they must have a meaningful
role in internet governance. Indeed, it is the responsibility of governments to represent
legitimate public policy concerns. Listening to those concerns is part of the
checks and balances of a true multi-stakeholder model. Too many countries feel they cannot
shape decisions; even those that have profound repercussions on their lives.
In short, there is a serious credibility gap. I worry that if current trends continue, the
Internet will fragment along national lines, and we will lose the benefits of the Internet
as we know it: unified, open, innovative. We need to move towards an environment where
all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing. There are many ways we can prevent that disengagement.
The European Commission, together with many other partners, has set out plans for a Global
Internet Policy Observatory. A platform to give a better grasp of what is going on for
internet governance around the world. Making it easier to understand, engage with and ultimately
influence. This is a great step forwards: and, with an ever-increasing number of partners
involved, we can create a tool which rallies those who share the same values. But I also want to find a longer term way
forward. This requires proper debate. A serious global
debate on the Internet. And this is a wonderful opportunity for the IGF. Because the IGF was
created exactly for such discussion and debate, within and between the different Internet
communities. That must include particularly the question of governments’ role in governance.
But also in terms of responsibilities. It is no surprise that a consultation stream
has started. For my part, I have launched an online dialogue on internet governance
to which I hope you will also contribute. I hope you will discuss these issues freely,
and please send me your conclusions. In a few weeks’ time, the European Commission
will set out its European vision for how to address current challenges in internet governance.
This will build on exchanges with stakeholders, and with governments. I hope that Europe can
develop a constructive agenda, protecting what is positive, and improving where needed.
Not doing away with the multi-stakeholder model, but fine-tuning it. But tell me if
you think I am wrong and there are other ways. Tell me if you think we need new institutions
altogether. We need to start from a set of high level
principles. Principles reflecting the EU’s values; but also respecting others’, and which
can deliver a model both pluralistic and inclusive. And we should be ready to review existing
institutions or organisations to do that. The Internet is not the property of any government
or any company. It is for all of us. And we need to make it work to benefit all of us! I wish you best of luck with your discussions
and look forward to continuing cooperation to safeguard the amazing, innovative platform
that is the Internet.