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Vice-President of the European Commission
Moving from reflection to action on internet governance
Address at opening session of Internet governance Forum
Vilnius, 14 September 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour to address you today at the fifth meeting of the Internet governance Forum (IGF).
I am very pleased that four years after the first meeting in Athens, this forum is hosted again in the European Union. In a way, it reflects the importance Europe attaches to internet governance. I would particularly like to thank Lithuania for having made this possible – yet another example of internet leadership from one of the Baltic states.
As many of you will know, the European Union has been a very active participant in the field of internet governance since the early days – in fact, the first EU activities took place in the 1990's even before the term was first coined! The need for coherent and appropriate public policy for Internet-related activities has since reached all continents, as was demonstrated vividly by the attention given to this subject during the World Summit on the Information Society, in Tunis, back in 2005.
During this coming week, many different aspects of internet governance will be discussed. But there is one particular element that I believe underlies why we are all here: we all know that the internet is a globally important infrastructure and we agree that its governance must also be global in nature.
With the number of internet users growing world wide, this aspect becomes even more important. Just look at the figures: the emerging economies will soon have more internet users than the EU and the United States combined. Internet governance is therefore equally relevant to all public authorities around the globe and not just the prerogative of the developed countries. For this reason, five years after committing to the Tunis Agenda, we need more concrete progress towards enhanced cooperation – we must go beyond just another round of consultations on the subject. Public authorities across the world must now be able, on an equal footing, to effectively carry out their roles and responsibilities when international public policy issues are at stake. There are already some signs of progress: I see that ICANN is reviewing its working methods. I am hopeful that similar steps can be made when it comes to the IANA functions. We need reform; but we don't need a revolution. And the IGF can help us get news ideas for this, in a sensible manner.
For the IGF, as a platform for international multi-stakeholder dialogue, is a unique opportunity for debate between stakeholders from around the globe.
This is why the EU supports the continuation of the IGF as a non-binding forum, and we therefore particularly welcome that Kenya has already formulated an offer to host the IGF for next year. This will certainly help to continue to reinforce the diversity of perspectives towards internet governance. This does not mean we should not also continuously seek to improve the IGF itself.
For instance, there is certainly room for even more outreach, even if, I believe, in the past four years, the IGF has achieved quite good results in terms of the diversity of participants. The rotation of the forum across geographic regions also constitutes an important factor in bringing in new voices.
Still, if we want to see more outreach and more diversity ‑ and eventually richer debates taking place here, we will all benefit – all of us have to continue to put more efforts into this. I am particularly pleased that more and more parliamentarians – in particular from the European Parliament and national parliaments in the EU – are participating in the IGF. For there are many issues we need to address.
One important debate is that related to multilingualism online. There, we have seen progress regarding the launch of some Internationalised Domain Names (IDN) at the top level. I believe that it is of utmost importance that citizens now have the option to use the scripts of their language for their domain names, email addresses and so on, just like in their everyday life. A key underlying principle in these processes is of course the respect for government's and other relevant public authorities' decisions – allowing each territory to decide for itself how it wishes to implement internet developments.
The open character of the IGF is also very important in this context. It is open to all stakeholders and to all themes; just as the internet should be. Furthermore, the openness of exchanges in the IGF is facilitated by the lack of pressure to achieve negotiated outcomes.
In a way, the IGF is shaped like the internet itself: openness is, and will remain, the key to the internet's success. You know my attachment to net neutrality. It must also be said that there are other ongoing challenges amongst the many successes of the internet.
The IGF is also right to address issues that concern citizens directly such as security and privacy. The need to ensure freedom of expression and combating the digital divide are other examples where efforts must be continued. Freedom of expression is not only a basic human right – it is also a key element for tomorrow's social and economic development: it allows the free movement of ideas and innovation. The internet is the defining communications technology of our age. We should all work hard to ensure that its full potential as a medium for creativity, innovation and expression is realised. Part of this challenge is to ensure that the benefits of the internet accrue to all on the planet and not just to a privileged few: ICTs play a critical role in helping to shrink social and economic disparities around the world.
In conclusion, in the follow up to the meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, I see many opportunities to move from reflections to action on enhanced cooperation and improvements of the IGF as an open, multi-stakeholder and non-binding forum. I am certain that this week's exchanges in Vilnius will generate some innovative ideas. At the same time, we have to capture the best thinking and turn it into actions.
I hope that all the exchanges over the comings days will be truly fruitful: hard on ideas, easy on people. Please allow me to thank once again our hosts and all of you, ladies and gentlemen for your participation and involvement.