EU internet governance: Franco-German alliance

Senator Gaëtan Gorce []

A new report from the French Senate outlines a strategy for greater European internet governance spearheaded by the Franco-German alliance. Only then can the EU compete with US’s online hegemony. EURACTIV France reports.

In a report published on 9 July, the French Senate proposed a new form of internet governance for Europe. The senators called on the EU to play a key role in ensuring that internet governance is independent and democratic.

According to Senator Gaëtan Gorce, head of the Senate’s mission, appropriately titled New role and new strategy for the European Union in the global governance of the internet, “the Snowden affair came as a blessing”, because it exposed the companies which store huge amounts of personal data. The revelations shook up public opinion, and people realised the importance of healthy internet governance.

The US is the global leader of the digital sector: 36 of the 50 top digital media companies are American.

>> Read: EU challenges US hegemony in global internet governance

“Internet governance has become a geopolitical issue. It is a new global battleground,” said Senator Catherine Morin-Desailly.

Reforming internet governance

The report contains 62 proposals aimed at “establishing a national and European strategy to secure our place on the digital world stage,” said Morin-Desailly. The Senate wants to improve internet governance through “an international treaty open to all states and an online ratification process for internet users.” It also wants to transform the Internet Governance Forum into a World Internet Council, which would control the conformity of decisions regarding internet governance.

The report also proposes to restructure the ICANN, a non-profit organisation that coordinates the Internet’s global domain name system. It would become the World ICANN (WICANN), conform to international law instead of Californian law, and be accountable to the World Internet Council. An independent and accessible appeal mechanism would be set up to allow revision of WICANN decisions.

>> Read: French concerns over geographical indications will hamper TTIP talks

On 26 June, the French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire, took an assertive stance against the ICANN. In a press release, she said that she did not see the ICANN as “a suitable body to discuss internet governance.”

Europe must make itself heard

The authors of the report claimed that Europe is not vocal enough in discussions about internet governance. It supports a previous report by Catherin Morin-Desailly, The European Union, digital colony? (December 2013). In it, Morin-Desailly stressed that Europe had fallen behind: “Europe’s position is shrinking. Two years ago 12 European companies featured in the world’s top-hundred largest high-tech companies, but now there are only eight.”

Morin-Desailly wants the EU to “take its digital destiny into its own hands and make it a top political priority”. She believes that the EU should “build a European industrial strategy to gain more control over our data and convey our values”. It would be linked to digital diplomacy “with a clear doctrine and financial means” in order to promote European values online.

Franco-German partnership

There is a lack of political will. Paris could spearhead the action, but it needs allies. The senators believe that the France-German partnership could be the engine behind Europe’s ambitions of internet governance.

A Franco-German alliance based on data-security is possible because of Germany’s interest in the area. The report proposes two concrete industrial projects: a mobile operating system and a secure and open European Cloud.

Gaëtan Gorce said it is in the EU’s interests to “affirm its principles and not to be shy,” emphasising the need to “speak as one and be coherent”.

The EU and countries worldwide are contesting the US’s hegemony over internet governance, especially in the wake of the NSA scandal.

In December 2013, French senators launched an information mission for an EU strategy on global internet governance. New role and new strategy for the European Union in the global governance of the internet focuses on Europe’s role in global internet governance.

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