21 October 2005

Viviane Reding: Internet Governance - the European Perspective

An issue that has attracted a disproportionate amount of attention is an alleged spat between Europe and the US the World Summit on the Information Society as to who should run the internet domain name system. In a speech delivered to the 2005 Summit of the Global Business Dialogue on electronic commerce on 17 Oct 2005 Viviane Reding, the Commissioner for the Information Society and the Media put the record straight.

Emphasizing the impressive degree of consensus that already exists on most issues, she explained that the difference of opinion that is grabbing the headlines is the small but important question of who and how names and addresses are allocated on the internet. Traditionally, the US government has overseen these key functions and most agree that it has done a good job. However, it is no longer desirable for a single state to decide who should run every other country’s top level domain space rather than the governments of the countries. Nor is it desirable for a single state to decide whether and when a top level domain can be introduced as the furore over the .xxx domain highlights.

The commissioner spelt out the EU position which is between the US government's demand for things to stay the same and just about everybody else's demand for change. It proposes a new forum based on fundamental principles to compliment existing mechanisms and institutions. Those principles would include inclusiveness of interests, interoperability, openness and the end-to-end principle.

Viviane Reding's speech put me in mind of Goldman Sachs paper "Dreaming with BRICS: The path to 2050". The authors look forward to a future in which the USA may be only the second, third or possibly even fourth great power in the world as the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) assert themselves. There is a lot of rot spoken by Eurosceptics - particularly as some of my compatriots celebrate a naval victory 200 years ago over our nearest continental neighbour and one of our closest allies - about the UK being able to stand aside from Europe as the 4th largest economy in the world. The reality is that unless we can integrate politically and economically in the next 50 years all the countries of Europe will be impotent. Moreover, the "special relationship" with America won't be worth very much because the USA itself will be in relative decline.

Issues like governance of the domain name system are likely to become more and more common as we move from a uni-polar to a multi-polar world. The greatest challenge for humankind is devising mechanisms to manage them.

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