For EuroDIG 2015, held in Sofia, Bulgaria on 3 and 4 June 2015, the RIPE NCC was pleased to be able to support the participation of Corinne Cath, who presented her work on human rights in the development of technical protocols at the recent RIPE 70 Cooperation Working Group session. Below is her impression of the conference.
Having attended various conferences on Internet Governance as well as multiple technically oriented conferences like those of the IETF and RIPE Meetings, I was uncertain what to expect of the EURODIG conference in Sofia. As a student at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) who does research on question related to the impact of technical network management on Internet governance processes and human rights, I was familiar with the IGF and its mandate. I was however surprised to find the atmosphere of the EURODIG to be very collegial, and outcome oriented. The moment I arrived at the hotel I was welcomed by the RIPE NCC core-team and a group of young professionals, who like myself have both an academic interest and a stake in Internet governance processes. Being able to spend my first night making comparisons between Internet Governance issues in Spain, Russia, Georgia and The Netherlands with people from those respective countries was a great warm-up to the conference.
The opening session of the first day included a short statement by Commissioner Oettinger and the Bulgarian Minister of Transport and ICT. It was followed by a panel on the European Single Digital Market. Although some of the panelist demonstrated ‘question-deflectitus’ the general level of the discussion was high and applied to solving real-life issues surrounding the Single Digital Market and copyright. Particularly surprising was the level of debate as instigated by the audience. Some very relevant questions were asked about the increased encroachment of governments on citizens in relation to their ability to run their own servers, and run their Internet communications in a fashion that works for them. Additionally, various individuals stressed the importance of putting human rights at the center of the debate on Internet governance. It was great to see that the Twitter discussion, visible on the three rather large twitter screens that covered the room, provided a constructive addition to the panel discussion. Not only did it allow individuals to emphasise points made at the mic, it also allowed them to interact with the panelists. And it gave a good overview of the different voices in the room, which ranged from NGO to academia, to youth representatives to EC representatives. Multi-stakeholder was clearly more than just an empty aspirational term at EURODIG.
The breakout sessions, like the opening session, were very participatory. The Netmundial session I attended gave a complete overview of its impact on larger Internet governance processes. Both in terms of local impacts in Brazil, and the way it reinvigorated the discussion on a global level. The discussion was particularly interesting because various people who participated in the netmundial were present, and able to present their views. This also allowed the group to identify some of the current challenges the process faces and how these can be addressed to ensure the netmundial initiative will have a lasting impact.
The second session I attended was on Should I click for Internet Governance? Where? ' It split the group up in three tables in a ‘world café’ format, challenging each table to define the main issues preventing ‘the general population’ from becoming active in Internet governance processes. Although I do not believe we found the magic bullet to solve this conundrum we did manage to create a good overview of the various institutional, technical, socio-economic, political and personal issues that inhibited citizens from participating in these processes. In addition to the plenary and break-out sessions, a lot of (net)working was done in the breaks. Being at EURODIG gave me the unique opportunity to talk to some of the people I had been following for some time. Exchanging ideas with them in direct way was great experience, and it further expanded my understanding of what Internet Governance means in the European context.
Overall, as a policy-maker-turned-academic it was great to be back in a space that prioritises policy making and an outcome oriented discussion. At the same time, I think it is important to keep a close eye on the statements and promises made at EURODIG to ensure that they will have the tangible follow-up they deserve considering the time and energy spent by the participants in the conference. This conference for me has reemphasised the importance of an actual multi-stakeholder process and I will continue to closely follow the process and encourage others to (where possible) become more engaged with these important questions.