In November I had the pleasure of participating in the Internet Governance Forum, which took place this year in Berlin. Organised by the United Nations, it brought together a wide range of people with an interest in the internet governance debate, from civil society to governments, industry representatives and the technical community.

Simply being at the IGF gave a positive sense of purpose; I was glad to see regional diversity, and in particular a good level of representation from the global south. The diverse crowd allowed for interdisciplinary, critical and well-balanced discussions, covering technical and regulatory issues, their social implications and potential policy responses. Panellists in several sessions expressed their concerns and offered ideas about protecting the interoperable nature of the internet. Some of my personal highlights were the discussions on legal frameworks for digital cooperation, and a debate on the rise of techno-nationalism in relation to the global deployment of 5G networks.

A free, open and human-centric internet

30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the location of the conference was well suited to the IGF’s annual theme: "One Word. One Net. One Vision". This reminded us that we should not take the integrity, openness and freedom of the internet for granted. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both highlighted this in their keynote speeches.

Secretary-General Guterres called for global digital cooperation to be advanced through a strengthened IGF, a commitment on trust and security, and the appointment of a special UN Tech Envoy, in line with the recommendations of the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation. Chancellor Merkel mentioned the need to keep the internet unfragmented, decentralised and open, paying special attention to human-centricity and the respect of fundamental values. She also focused on the concept of digital sovereignty and called for the preservation of the core of the internet as a global public good.

The event also allowed me to reflect on the steps that the European Commission, together with Member States, has made since our high-level group on internet governance was established in 2004 to enable coordination at EU level on issues relating to internet governance. In Europe, we are strong supporters of an open and free internet, built around the values that we recognise as part of our common European identity. In order to protect our European values online, we need to establish concrete governance frameworks for tangible outcomes, allowing all stakeholders to work together. We also need to invest in the technologies, which we do via our Next-Generation Internet initiative.

An eye to the future

During the IGF, I came across great individuals and groups working to make humans the centre of digital developments. I am especially impressed by the Youth IGF movement, and their efforts to encourage and involve young people in substantive discussions on the topic of internet governance. The work done by these young individuals represents some of the most concrete outcomes I have seen so far at the IGF.

Next year’s forum will take place in Katowice, Poland, on 2-6 November 2020: the fourth in a row to be organised by a European country. We are confident that it will be another important milestone in the future of internet governance, coming after the 75th anniversary of the UN’s establishment and the possible “Global Declaration on Digital Cooperation” that Secretary-General Guterres wishes to put forward, as an outcome of the follow-up on the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation.