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May 9: Celebrating Europeans' Role in the Evolution of the Internet

9 May 2016
By Jean-Jacques Sahel

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Photo: ICG Celebrating Conclusion in Dublin at ICANN54


Coming just after V-E Day, which celebrates the end of the Second World War in Europe, May 9 is the annual 'Europe Day'. It marks a coming together. From the late 1940s onwards, people from different – sometimes conflicting – cultures, backgrounds and perspectives joined forces to pursue a common goal: peace and prosperity in Europe. Sounds familiar? We in the Internet community are rather used to this kind of complex, transnational project.

Europe has arguably achieved much of its ultimate goal of peace and prosperity, through an immense effort, supported by a framework of novel systems for common governance and interactions developed over several decades. And despite the remarkable progress made, these novel systems which underpin European coordination must continue to evolve, as the region develops, as its economy and its social interactions change, as new opportunities and new challenges arise.

In a similar vein, the process of transitioning the stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions has been a unique exercise in further pioneering and strengthening the multistakeholder model. This transition has brought in, successfully, a range of all relevant stakeholders from around the world, to work together to devise an efficient solution to a complex global issue.  It was arguably the first truly major global effort and consultative process, open to any and all stakeholders, toward a shared goal – evolving together the system of governance for one of the key underpinnings of a crucial global resource, the Internet.

From our end, as ICANN staff in Europe, we organized dozens of activities to raise awareness with European stakeholders and encourage them to provide input on the transition. Around the world, a total of more than 1,000 such activities took place over the past two years. It was a necessary, tremendous effort – exhausting at times, but both important and fulfilling. But we're not done. More activities are being organized now to inform about the final proposal, as submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. These activities include the workshops organized last week at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum in Geneva, and the forthcoming European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) in Brussels.

The transition was a global process, not a European one. But European contribution to this major unprecedented global effort has been remarkable.

I am proud to have seen the European Internet community not just well represented [PDF, 1.26 MB] – making up around 30 percent of all participants across the various transition working groups – but also actively and significantly taking part. They were a major driving force in achieving a robust, consensual proposal. It was also in Europe that the proposal was finalized and approved, at ICANN54 in Dublin, before its final endorsement at ICANN55 in Marrakech once the accountability stream had completed its transition work.

These days, there are talks about Europe needing to "regain its lead" in the digital world, as in the presumed hallowed days of the GSM, twenty years ago when Europe was seen by some as leading the world in digital technologies. In the Internet governance part of the digital world, Europe is arguably already there. Europeans have a strong, positive and now increasingly well-established place. The transition process has been a clear and inspiring demonstration of that. We should welcome it, and encourage Europe to play its part, positively, constructively, passionately, across all layers of the digital ecosystem.

Today we celebrate Europe, and the reality that Europeans can have a strong and respected voice in managing a global resource in collaboration and positive spirit with all other regions, in helping evolve the Internet for the global benefit.

Authors

Jean-Jacques Sahel