Table-ronde sur la gouvernance internationale du numérique

19 Apr 2019

Event report

The event was organised by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) and moderated by Mr Francois Xavier Ngarambe (Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Rwanda, Coordinator of the Working Group of the Francophonie on Digitisation). Ngarambe highlighted that solutions to digital problems can only be global, as digital matters do not stop at national borders. He said that there is a risk of political monopolisation of the topic by the EU.

In his introductory remarks, Mr Francis Gurry (Director-General of WIPO) lauded the OIF’s efforts regarding digital matters and noted that the OIF had recognised the importance of the topic early on. Gurry explained that technology is ahead of governance institutions. He spoke about the importance of multilateralism and said that market scales are becoming increasingly important. He further noted that while many organisations are concerned with technological developments there is no institution which focuses on the integrity of data.

Mr Henri Verdier (French Ambassador for Digital Affairs) spoke about the challenges of Internet governance and said that we must be prepared for many more disruptions caused by digitalisation. Verdier noted the importance of co-governance in order to avoid the excessive influence of monopolies.

Verdier explained his mandate and highlighted France’s commitment to an open and free Internet. Additionally, Verdier explained that France believes that laws of the analogue world also apply online, and that despite a right to anonymity, authorities must be able to identify perpetrators. Verdier also noted the importance of fighting monopolies and maintaining fair competition as well as the necessity to address taxation issues. According to Verdier, France values the multistakeholder principles of Internet governance, but underlined the fact that governments are responsible for the online safety of their citizens.

Moreover, Verdier emphasised that in order to keep up with the digital revolution, it is necessary to create language-specific content to contribute to online content.

Ms Emmanuelle Ganne (Senior Analyst at WTO) highlighted the considerable impact of digitisation on commerce and spoke about the potential of blockchain. She explained that blockchain is still in its development phase and can thus be guided in its development to fit specific needs and be regulated.

Ganne explained that platforms use different kinds of distributed ledgers and that the role of regulators is thus to bring clarity to the specific uses of new technologies. She further noted that there are many standards for the Internet but that there are very few for blockchain and similar technologies. According to Ganne, it is important for regulators to address new technologies at very early stages and to create common standards.

Ms Isabelle Durant (Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD) addressed the digital divide between developed and developing countries, and pointed out promising avenues to bridge them, for example new digital payment services or digital identification systems such as India’s Aadhar system. These systems allow for the distribution of essential services to the population, the empowerment of women, and reduce corruption.

Durant explained that digitisation requires a global strategy. According to her, however, it is also important to accept the interdisciplinarity of Internet governance.

Mr Jovan Kurbalija (Executive Director, Secretariat of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation (ex officio) pointed out that the Internet is a mirror of society and a tool for progress.

Kurbalija noted that digital topics have already integrated traditional policy areas such as the economy and diplomacy in Geneva, but that so far, there are only 10 diplomats dealing with issues of digitisation. He warned about missing out on such important developments. Moreover, Kurbalija mentioned that there is a lot of confusion and a lack of clarity regarding digital issues, given that these matters are extremely complex. Therefore, policy-makers need to be clear on what they know and what they do not know. According to Kurbalija, the different actors should also concentrate on their core roles, wherein states are bound by their social contracts to their peoples; businesses should make profit and not focus on becoming norm entrepreneurs; and finally, civil society should help holding the different stakeholder accountable.

He further noted that working in silos is a human trait, but that instead of breaking those silos up, ways should be found to inform each other about developments within the silos. Furthermore, Kurbalija argued in favour of policy sandboxes.

Mr Julien Jarrige (Counsel of the Director of the Political and Fiscal Administration Center of the OECD) explained that in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007, transparency was increased and information exchanges between the G20 countries were introduced. These mechanisms have proven to be very beneficial according to Jarrige.

He further spoke about the interests of businesses to make profits through online platforms and emphasised the importance of subjecting them to taxes. Jarrige explained the OECD’s efforts to impose its Base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) initiative on businesses of the digital economy. The idea is to have co-ordinated tax rules in order to avoid increasing the complexity of transnational transactions and clarify tax regulations. For the first time, over 120 countries are working with the OECD with equal rights in order to develop a tax regulation framework. Jarrige explained that this initiative is also leading to increased capacity development between members and creating a promising avenue to address the challenges of taxation in the digital age.

Mr Henri Monceau (Permanent Representative of the OIF) closed the event and mentioned that future works of the OIF would be concerned with the developments of 5G.