Markus Kummer is the Executive Coordinator of the Secretariat supporting the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Mr Kummer was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General following the decision by the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to convene a multi-stakeholder platform to discuss Internet governance. Previously, he served as Executive Coordinator of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). Before joining the United Nations, Mr Kummer served in several functions as a career diplomat in the Swiss Foreign Ministry in Berne, Lisbon, Vienna, Oslo, Geneva and Ankara. Mr Kummer held the position as eEnvoy of the Swiss Foreign Ministry in Berne. Mr Kummer was a member of the Swiss delegation during the first phase of the WSIS where he chaired several negotiating groups, including the group dealing with Internet governance. Markus Kummer has a master’s degree in languages, literature and journalism from the University of Bern.
Given the number of stakeholders, the complexities of Internet governance are apparent. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) established by the UN is a market place of ideas built around ‘soft governance’; it has no decision-making authority. However, its UN mandate makes it a neutral space where all actors can identify issues to address by the international community and shape decisions to be taken in other forums. The IGF is now viewed by some as a model for other international policy arenas.
“Member states are inspired by the Tunis Agenda for the information society and the United Nations-led Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which facilitates the development and application of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet by governments, the private sector and civil society in their respective roles.”1 This praise by the Council of Europe typifies a budding sentiment towards the IGF and indicates the complexity of the IGF’s mandate. Envisioned as a platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue on Internet governance, the IGF model is emerging as one to be emulated in an increasingly globalized world. The concept of an IGF arose between the two phases of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), which convened in 2003 and 2005. The second WSIS, held in Tunis, produced the Tunis Agenda, which asked the Secretary-General of the United Nations to convene an IGF. The IGF was to be a dialogue between the world of governments and the Internet community2, a multi-stakeholder synthesis between the informal, bottom-up structure of the Internet community and the pyramidal, top-down process common to governments. The dialogue was to be on the major Internet governance public policy issues with the aim to foster the Internet’s sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development. The IGF was meant to develop a common understanding of these issues and raise awareness of the development dimension of Internet governance through dialogue. Quite unlike the traditional United Nations processes, the IGF serves to bring people together from various stakeholder groups as equals, but not to make decisions or negotiate. Rather, they discuss, exchange information and share best practices with each other. While the IGF may not have decision-making abilities, it informs and inspires those who do. The forum facilitates a common understanding of how to maximize Internet opportunities, use them for the benefit of all nations and peoples and address risks and challenges that arise. It has been pointed out that: “The IGF is a learning process for all stakeholders involved. Governments have to adapt… and be prepared to take a step back, [while] civil society and the Internet community will have to adapt and get used to the ways of diplomacy.”3 In general, the IGF is seen as a successful experiment in international cooperation and its new approach to multi-stakeholder cooperation has spread to other organizations and forums. Last year the IGF model spread and was duplicated at national and regional levels, from Latin America to East and West Africa, as well as Europe. IGF annual meetings Since its inauguration in 2006, the IGF has met annually, with participants from governments, the private sector, international organizations, and civil society, including the academic and technical communities. The first meeting convened in Athens, Greece, and took place between 30 October and 2 November 2006. It was attended by 1,350 delegates from all stakeholder groups. In his opening address, the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said “the forum enters uncharted waters”4, due to its multi-stakeholder character. He stated that the forum would have to develop practices to cultivate meaningful cooperation among disparate partners. The main themes of the inaugural meeting were openness, security, diversity, and access, with development and capacity building as cross-cutting priorities. This successful meeting was followed by one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 12-15 November 2007, which further developed the themes from the Athens meeting and added critical Internet resources to the agenda. The third meeting in Hyderabad, India from 3-6 December 2008 was themed, ‘Internet for All’. Held in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Mumbai, there were some cancellations, but overall, attendance was close to that of Athens and Rio. As in previous meets, parallel to the main sessions, workshops, best practice forums, dynamic coalition meetings and open forums were scheduled around the broad themes of the main sessions and the overall mandate of the IGF. From Athens to Hyderabad, there was a progression from generalizations and issue segmentation to closer linkages between the main themes. It became clear that some themes were closely linked and had to be discussed in tandem. Discussing security without addressing at the same time the Internet’s openness and issues related to freedom of expression would not give the full picture. The same confluence emerged with issues of access and diversity. Impact of the IGF There have been some criticisms of the IGF. Some governments have expressed the concern that they do not have enough influence in Internet decision-making processes and some civil society representatives expressed their disappointment, as they expected more from the IGF. However, other stakeholder groups, and some governments, such as the United States, the Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union and Egypt, the Host Country of the 2009 meeting, have praised the IGF model5. For example, the UK government says that the IGF’s lack of decision-making power is “one of its fundamental strengths”. Since the IGF is not “subject to the constraints of an international negotiating forum, it is able to bring together… key stakeholder experts from across the globe to identify best policy approaches… and the way forward for innovators”. The IGF thus provides a “crucial … international platform”.6 The IGF multi-stakeholder participatory model is thus emerging as a viable form of global coordination. The aforementioned UK government report recognizes that “one means of achieving… global coordination is firstly through the Internet Governance Forum”. This form of governance, though atypical, is proving to be effective and inclusive. The European parliament states, “an aspect of Internet governance that has contributed to its success to date has been the use of multi-stakeholder processes to initiate and develop consensus on Internet governance policies”.7 In line with sentiments from attendees to IGF meets, the United Nations Secretary General reports: “[t]he IGF has matured in several respects. The third forum allowed for discussions of politically sensitive issues in a climate of good faith, and succeeded in reducing people’s apprehensions and concerns.”8 The issue of critical Internet resources is an example of this maturing. Discussions on these issues in the past have been contentious. In Hyderabad, it was possible to hold an informed discussion that contributed to a better understanding of these complex issues among the various stakeholder groups. The fourth meeting of the IGF will be in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from 15-18 November 2009. The preparatory process is well underway. ‘Internet governance - creating opportunities for all’ is the overall title for the 2009 meeting. The future of the IGF Initially, the IGF was given a provisional lifespan of five years. The Tunis Agenda specifically called on the Secretary-General “to examine the desirability of the continuation of the Forum, in formal consultation with Forum participants, within five years of its creation, and to make recommendations to the UN Membership in this regard”. These consultations will be held at the Sham El Sheikh meeting to allow for a timely decision by the United Nations Membership before the five-year deadline. A broad based consultative process has already been started and a questionnaire is available on the IGF website. Among other things, stakeholders are invited to state their perception of the impact of the IGF, and whether it has been a catalyst for change. Based on these consultations, the Secretary-General will make recommendations in his annual report on WSIS follow-up and implementation. Conclusion From Tunis to Sharm El Sheikh, the complexities of Internet governance are apparent. If the IGF has been a market place of ideas, the laws of demand and supply will allow for better ideas to prevail. A governance model built on ‘soft governance’ and ‘soft power’9, the IGF has no decision making authority, and no vested self-interest. However, its UN mandate gives it convening power and the authority to serve as a neutral space for all actors. It can therefore identify issues to be addressed by the international community and shape decisions that will be taken in other forums. So while the IGF has no power of redistribution, it has the power of recognition. Finally, it is worth the mention that the IGF is now viewed by some as a model for other international policy arenas10.