EuroDIG – dialogues on decisions made elsewhere?
A Guest Post by Amelia Andersdotter
EuroDIG is as always a vibrant place with many different nationalities coming together to discuss important topics for the future of internet governance. Unfortunately, many of the discussions coming up are displaced: the accountability and responsibility for deciding on important stakes for the internet community is just not present.
EuroDIG 2014 was organised in Germany. This means a slight over-representation of Germans in the meeting, just as last year there was a slight over-representation of Portuguese people. While the issues of concern are the same: mass-surveillance, trust in the internet, copyright conundrum and the over-arching philosophical and moral ethics embedded in our technical systems, the decisions are made in the Council, the Parliament, the Congress or in any other place not accessible by EuroDIG participants.
This caused the conference to be a bit dismal. What few political representatives were actually present were not in a position to make relevant demands.
In one of the main sessions, Jake Appelbaum pointed out the on a direct question about asylum in Europe for Edward Snowden, Commissioner Neelie Kroes had retorted “what do we gain from that?” While such a direct dismissal from the Commissioner was so surprising to me that I had to ask if that had actually been said (apparently it had), the only reasonable follow-up action that could have been addressed in the meeting was requesting Jan Albrecht to hold the Commissioner accountable for this. Such a demand of Mr Albrecht was not made, and it remains to be seen if members of parliament can hold Mrs Kroes accountable – in any way – for having such an extremely self-gratifying approach to whistleblowers.
In the net neutrality discussions, it was painfully obvious that the battle lines are well-known. Objections, discussions, arguments and stakeholders are already fixed, the game is set, and the decisions are elsewhere. Therefore, the only conclusion is that we must expect the Council to listen to the Parliament, but this is looking unlikely.
The German ministers in charge of the forum each contributed texts for the EuroDIG brochure, and Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Steinmeier also provided the assembly with a keynote. However, when reassuring the European audience that the German ministry will be working with German stakeholders the underlying message is actually that government policies around the internet – even the policies of European governments in a European setting – is still very much focused on the national arena, and that in fact it is, and will remain, difficult for a more transnational community to make itself heard in discussions and decisions relating to important acts of balancing power in the information space.
Similarly, the celebration of an upcoming U.S.-German Cyber Dialogue on security, privacy and freedom is not comforting: while German dominance was expected and realized at this years’ EuroDIG, most participants were not German. Setting up a bilateral forum for two governments to discuss what appears to be the over-arching concerns of the community working on internet governance issues is, at the end of the day, nothing more than further consolidating the feeling of real discussions being undertaken by other actors elsewhere, beyond the access of all people who aren’t fortunate enough to be a strong German stakeholder or a strong U.S. stakeholder. The internet governance discussions unfortunately have not reached very far in liberalisation: we effectively are not having multisided governance debates, but shadowy, limited government-to-government interactions outside of every recognised forum for international debate.
That aside, like other discussion forums, EuroDIG is a nice place to run into people that one would not normally run into and talk about things that maybe one does not normally talk about.
I am still left with the feeling that the elephant in the room is that EuroDIG gathers a lot of people with different points of view, but isn’t an effective platform for coordination of responses to the mutual concerns that are expressed with policy making. While discussions at both the IGF and EuroDIG are increasingly associated with high-level political concerns and frameworks within which especially corporations and governments can exercise power against individual users, there is no ambition to create a response to such concerns. Many of those who express their concerns in these forums seem to rather be people who do not have voice on other platforms, or who cannot be represented in other fields. It creates a weird dynamic between those who come there and can make a difference and those who come there and can’t.
What is ultimately important is to acknowledge that the internet governance discussion platforms were originally devised during the World Summit on Information Society as a mechanism to distract governments from shifting internet standardisation to the International Telecommunications Union (widely acknowledged as intransparent, low-access and weak to corporate, crony influence mechanisms). Now that governments are re-asserting their strong positions in cooperation with corporations, these platforms can transform themselves into something more meaningful. But that requires leadership and desire from somewhere.
Featured image: CC BY-SA Amelia Andersdotter