Q4/2018 - 13th Internet Governance Forum (IGF)
The 13th IGF in Paris on 12 to 15 November 2018 was generally acknowledged as a great success, with regard to political significance, the quality of the discussions and the documented result. It was in particular the high-calibre speakers at the opening, UN Secretary General António Guterres, UNESCO General Director Audrey Azoulay and the French President Emmanuel Macron, that gave the event its political importance.
- Especially the keynote of French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that the issue of Internet governance had arrived at the big political stage. Macron’s multiple suggestions for new multilateral Internet arrangements and related regulations were not received with uniform approval. One of those to view them critically was the head of the delegation of the US-American government, David Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the US Department of Commerce. Nevertheless, the speech of the French President showed that after years during which the global Internet governance debate had been more or less stagnating (and the focus had been put primarily on the management of critical resources, the tasks of ICANN and the IANA transition), the global political Internet debate needed a new impetus. Macron spoke out against both a state-controlled authoritarian Internet and an Internet of "laissez faire". In his opinion, future Internet arrangements and a future functioning democracy based on the rule of law were interrelated. With his commitment to an “innovative multilateralism”, he rejected models of neo-nationalist unilateralism and at the same time called for creativity in the further development of multistakeholderism, which has been the conceptual basis for the discussion of Internet governance issues since the adoption of the Tunis Agenda.
- UN Secretary General António Guterres’ speech went in the same direction. Guterres also supported the multistakeholder principle. He called for a holistic, i.e. multidisciplinary, approach to global Internet issues. Guterres asked the community to be more creative when developing Internet arrangements and requested to closely connect the WSIS goals with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to take into consideration new challenges, such as artificial intelligence. He assured the IGF of the UNO’s support but asked at the same time to produce more concrete results with a practical effect on the digital world. He, too, postulated an “innovative multilateralism“. “Discussion on Internet Governance cannot just remain discussion. Policy, and then relevant normative frameworks, must be developed to ensure impact. We cannot leave our fate in the digital era to the invisible hand of the market force. But classical form of regulation do not apply to many of this new generation of challenges. Non-traditional, multilateral and multi-stakeholder cooperation will be crucial, including governments, private sector, research centers and civil society.” Guterres also referred to the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation established by him in June 2018 and requested the Panel to help strengthening the IGF.
Though the program of the IGF had been condensed from the traditional four to three days, both quality and intensity of the discussions were of the usual high level. Despite of the short time the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) had had due to the late announcement of the host country to compose a well-rounded program from the more than 400 proposals, the MAG’s new program shaping approach proved successful, even though the community still was by no means content with the MAG’s proposal evaluation process.
More than 3,000 attendants from 143 countries (1,000 of them online) had registered for the 13th IGF. It featured 171 sessions of different formats. Regional hubs for remote participation had been set up in 35 countries. The number of national, regional and youth IGFs has grown from 97 at the IGF 2017 in Geneva to 111 at the IGF 2018. There are now 18 IGF Dynamic Coalitions.
The IGF 2018 responded to the request for more tangible output that has been made for years with the “Chair´s Summary” and “IGF 2018 Messages”. The IGF has no mandate to negotiate and can thus not adopt a closing document supported by all stakeholders.
- The idea discussed for years – and applied by numerous national and regional IGFs – to summarise the discussions of the individual plenary sessions and workshops in so-called “Messages” was put into practice at a global IGF for the first time at the Annual Meeting in Geneva in December 2017. The IGF in Paris went a step further and committed all rapporteurs of the individual sessions to sum up the essence of the discussion in two to three short messages immediately upon conclusion of the event. The result was a document containing 157 messages on eight focal issues.
- These messages do not have any legal significance. They are no “recommendations” as they are adopted at other UN conferences. But they give good guidance, are a source of inspiration and support the bottom-up multistakeholder opinion-forming process. They may also be useful to choose the appropriate wording in future agendas when an individual issue passes on to the negotiation stage. No process for compiling such messages has been defined so far. This will be another task of the MAG. It would also be useful if the MAG established a mechanism to follow up on the individual messages and the impact they have on the policy development of the issue concerned.