The discussion on Digital Policy in South Eastern Europe, held on 21 February 2017, was organised by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Macedonia to the United Nations in Geneva and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP).
Dr Jovan Kurbalija, Founding Director of DiploFoundation and Head of the Geneva Internet Platform, started the discussion with some introductory remarks on the link between International Geneva and southeastern European countries. He noted that many decisions taken in Geneva have an important impact on regional and national developments when it comes to digital policies.
Mr Ljupčo Jivan Gjorgjinski, acting Head of the Macedonian Mission in Geneva, underlined how digital policy issues in general and Internet governance issues in particular are at a crossroads. The direction they take from here depends on a clear articulation of needs and interests. This can be done at the global level – through many forums of discussion that take place in Geneva, including the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – but also at the regional, sub-regional, and national levels. These issues are evermore significant, complex, and intertwined. The fact that the IGF is this year organised in Geneva – where it was to a great degree created – presents a great opportunity for small countries to present information from the national level and express their interests, along with other important stakeholders, including the technical community, the private sector, and civil society.
Mr Chengetai Masango, Programme and Technology Manager at the IGF Secretariat, underlined that the mandate of the IGF is to involve all stakeholders to discuss issues related to Internet governance. As he noted, the IGF was created on the basis of the paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society in 2005, especially to ‘discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the Internet’. He invited and encouraged the missions represented at this briefing to participate in the IGF First Open Consultations and MAG meeting, to be held on 1–3 March 2017 in geneva, as well as in the IGF meeting itself, in December. Masango also noted, that despite an increase in participation by Asia-Pacific and African countries, southeastern European countries are still underrepresented at the IGF.
Ms Anja Gengo, Focal Point for national and regional IGF initiatives (NRIs) at the IGF Secretariat, noted the important role played by different stakeholders in the preparation of the next IGF, to be held in December 2017 in Geneva, as they submit their ideas of what should be on the IGF’s agenda. She addressed the challenge of the Policy Options for Connecting the Next Billion, an intersessional programme within the IGF launched in 2015 with the intent of extending and increasing the impact of IGF activities, such as NRIs. She emphasised the importance of tackling regional and national issues, which are not covered by the global IGF, and may also be interesting for southeastern European countries. Gengo also mentioned that there is a significant number of very active IGF initiatives in this region, all very valuable contributors to the IGF intersessional work.
Kurbalija noted that during this important year in digital policy, southeastern European countries will need to find a way to adjust to these fast new developments. For example, the SEE region has to find ways to deal with policy questions related to data, which has important security, human rights, e-commerce, and intellectual property aspects. Data will be in the focus of digital discussions held in Geneva during 2017.
Gjorgjinski presented the programme of the South Eastern European Dialogue on Internet Governance (SEEDIG), a sub-regional IGF initiative recognised by the UN-led IGF, which will hold its third annual meeting on 24-25 May 2017 in Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia. The event will cover: new challenges of human rights online; perspectives, opportunities, and policy implications of the Internet of Things; an overview of open data policies and initiatives in southeastern European countries; the status and perspectives in internationalised domain names with the integration of non-Latin scripts; and national, regional, and international co-operation in addressing cyber-risks.
He also highlighted that a new role for parliamentarians is called for and, again, Geneva – which also hosts the International Parliamentary Union – is uniquely positioned. The courts will otherwise be increasingly pressured to fill the vacuum that currently exists for many digital issues.
The discussion ended with a Q&A. Kurbalija underlined the importance of moving forward, and creating more communication between the different stakeholders. He mentioned especially that Microsoft has called for the establishment of a Digital Geneva Convention, which underlines the strong need for public-private partnerships in dealing with digital matters. He added that, in 2017, we will witness a more intense discussion on jobs and digital developments, given in particular the fast developments in the area of robotics and artificial intelligence applications. This last point was also underlined by Gjorgjinski, who emphasised the importance of restructuring the job market to capture these new digital developments. He concluded that so far, the technical community and the private sector viewed governments with suspicion, a point of view which nowadays is shifting towards co-operation, not only with governments but also directly with national parliaments.
In terms of next steps, the following activities were outlined:
1. Monthly briefings
Permanent missions can receive monthly updates on developments in the digital field, through newsletters (global and regional), and briefings held every last Tuesday of the month (at 13.00 CET, at the GIP offices).
2. Awareness building in SEE, before and at the SEEDIG meeting in Ohrid
SEEDIG organisers can provide promotional materials which permanent missions could share with actors in their respective countries: ministries, universities, technical community, etc. Requests for materials can be sent at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Involve parliamentarians
The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Macedonia will liaise with the Parliament of Macedonia, in order to extend invitations to SEE Parliaments for participation in the SEEDIG meeting.
Permanent missions could consider other modalities for involving parliamentarians, for example during annual meetings of the International Parliamentary Union (e.g. organise sessions on SEE digital developments).
4. Organise regular briefings for SEE permanent missions in Geneva
The next briefing is envisaged before the summer break (late May/early June). The Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina also suggested to extend the briefing to the East European Group, which Bosnia and Herzegovina currently coordinates.
5. Organise ad hoc briefings for ministers and high officials from SEE
Permanent missions from SEE countries can organise, in co-operation with the GIP, customised briefings on digital policy for ministers and high officials visiting Geneva.