[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]
Internet governance and digital transformation are now high on the agenda of many stakeholders, such as the European Union (EU). The EU can play a fundamental role in setting standards and regulatory frameworks, as well as becoming a trusted hub for ethical technology development. The progressive changes of Internet governance discussions towards ‘digital governance’ redefine the role and actions of European stakeholders, offering new opportunities for leadership on the global level.
Internet governance debates are in a phase of transition, offering new opportunities to European stakeholders to play a fundamental role in setting the standards and regulatory frameworks of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI).
This situation of transition was pointed to by Ms Julia Pohle (Senior Researcher, WZB Berlin Social Science Center) who argued that debates around the Internet are currently transforming, from Internet governance to ‘digital governance’. The main issues under discussion have strongly evolved in the past decades, partly due to the societal transformations generated by the development of the Internet. The rise of new technologies such as blockchain and AI also creates a shift from Internet governance towards technology governance, according to Mr Olivier Bringer (Head of Unit, DG CNECT, European Commission). Ms Maarit Palovirta (Director, Regulatory Affairs, ETNO) also argued that this current period was particularly decisive for European stakeholders, with the progressive rolling-out of 5G networks across Europe, which raises many complex issues, in terms of security, privacy, and innovation.
In this rapidly evolving digital world, the EU has the potential to lead global discussions for setting standards. For Mr Andrea Beccalli (Director Stakeholder Engagement, ICANN), Europe is no longer a superpower in the Internet economy, but still leads the discussions in terms of values, innovation, and in supporting the multistakeholder model at the regional level (EuroDIG) and global level (IGF). This European power is well illustrated by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which has clearly set the standard at the global level for the protection of personal data on the Internet. Other countries around the world have followed this legislation, from Japan and Argentina, to Brazil, several African countries, and recently California. Bringer also detailed the work conducted by the European Commission in setting up multistakeholder and multidisciplinary groups to address key topical issues, such as the governance of blockchain, AI, and ethics. But Bringer also recalled that the EU’s goal, as illustrated by the introductory speech of Chancellor Merkel at the IGF, is also to be considered a hub for innovation and technology development. To achieve this objective, the European Commission’s Next Generation Internet initiative intends to support the development of new technologies, with a human-centric approach and in alignment with European principles.
By Clément Perarnaud