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How EURid is supporting the multi-stakeholder model at EuroDIG and beyond

13 Sept. 2023

By Alastair Gill

This year’s EuroDIG 2023, which took place in mid-June in Tampere, amid the lakes and forests of central Finland, had a slightly unreal atmosphere. The disorientating sensation of the northern summer, with sunset after 11 p.m. and daylight lingering well into the night, was amplified by unseasonal temperatures of almost 30 degrees Celsius, making Tampere warmer than Paris and Warsaw. Finland’s second city has a reputation as the world’s sauna capital but, lying 180 km north of Helsinki, it isn’t used to this kind of heat.

All the same, it was business as usual for EURid, which traditionally sees EuroDIG as one of the key areas of focus in its efforts to support internet governance. With a tagline of “Internet in troubled times: risks, resilience, hope”, EuroDIG 2023, hosted by Tampere University, aimed to tackle the burning issues around internet governance in an increasingly unstable world.

The programme featured three main tracks: Impact of the War, devoted to the effect of the war in Ukraine on internet security and how geopolitical crises threaten the integrity of the internet; Internet Fragmentation, which explored how globally interoperable networks can splinter as a result of activity by both autocratic and democratic governments; and Digital Platforms, which studied regulatory issues raised by the pace of emerging digital technologies. 

Spotlight on youth

One of the most eye-catching aspects of EuroDIG 2023 was the Youth Messages compiled by the YOUth Dialogue on Internet Governance (YOUthDIG), which traditionally highlights issues and themes that young leaders want to bring to European stakeholders’ attention. Presented by Verena Wingerter and Rafael Vieira at the opening ceremony on 19 June, the messages were notable for their focus on the challenges surrounding the regulation of artificial intelligence, data protection, as well as ethical issues relating to the digital ecosystem.

Reflecting later on their experience, YouthDIG volunteers and EuroDIG first-timers Selma Kaymakci and Johannes Hilling were enthusiastic about the achievements of the YOUthDIG team in compiling this year’s Youth Messages.

At just 19, Kaymakci was the youngest participant in this year’s YOUthDIG. “When I first came into the room of YOUthDIGers, I was like, ‘I’m 19, I’m so young, and I’m all around these people who have studied Masters and PhDs and all that”, she said, adding that any sense of impostor syndrome was quickly dispelled once the discussions began.

“It really felt like an intense learning experience for me”, said Hillling, a 25-year-old Global Studies MA student from Leipzig, Germany. “We did it in a matter of hours really, and it’s a big buzz”.

“It was very intense at times because of the fact that we come from very different backgrounds, we have very different opinions”, said Kaymakci, whose area of specialisation is children’s rights and human rights in general. “There were very intense conversations on what to put in there and also the wording, because the wording is very, very important.”

Kaymakci, who only recently left secondary school, spoke at the EuroDIG panel on “Nurturing Digital Well-being: Addressing the Impact of the Digital Environment on Youth Mental Health”, where she addressed topics such as digital literacy, and cybersecurity for children.

Indeed, a striking aspect of the 2023 Youth Messages was the unusual degree of detail and the very specific language in which many of their demands were phrased.

“The United Nations and the European Union has these buzzwords, like ‘inclusivity’ and ‘sustainability’, and nobody really knows what it means, but we use it because it sounds good. I think that’s what made the discussions harder, because we were actually looking for very specific words that would not just mean another inclusivity message that everyone could do” said Kaymakci.

She described the experience as “a positive impression” and praised its diversity. “It was almost like a breath of fresh air that the youth was included, so I’m very happy about that, and I think it’s trying to be very diverse in general”, she said, calling for more transparency on how the messages reach and are received by policymakers. “I think these conferences serve as a great place to talk everything out, but then the actual action – we don’t see that. It would be great to actually see what and how it is acted upon”, she explained.

“It’s a complicated question to ask whether you feel your voice is being heard, and it ranges through the whole population of a country, or the European Union”, said Hilling.

Kaymakci agreed that for real change to happen, there needs to be an institutionalised role for youth in government. “What we need in order for them to act on our opinions is permanent representation in the structures – not only in the companies, but also, I would say, to some extent in the governmental structures as well, which is very hard to get”, she said. 

EURid stays plugged in

In keeping with its role as a key EuroDIG stakeholder, EURid played an active role in EuroDIG 2023 as usual, participating in funding as well as sponsoring and organising events in the programme.

On the opening day, EURid organised a 90-minute panel discussion through the Dynamic Coalition on Data and Trust. Titled “Efforts in shaping secure online environment by various DNS actors”, the hybrid discussion brought together six voices from different internet governance stakeholders, including representatives of registries, registrars, law enforcement and cybersecurity organisations.

The aim of the panel was to get an overview of the efforts being made by different DNS stakeholders to ensure a trustworthy and secure online environment. What measures are they taking? What motivates them besides their legislative obligations?  And with important new legislation on the way, participants were also asked to look to the future and share their opinions on the impact of future European legislation on the way registries and registrars work with data.

EURid also contributed to EuroDIG 2023 by organising a session during the YOUthDIG section of the conference on 18 June, including locating and providing a speaker. Titled “Reimagining Social Media”, the session was led by Josef Holý, a Czech expert in AI, digital manipulation, computational propaganda, and disinformation.

Beyond EuroDIG and YOUthDIG, EURid took part in the Summer School on Internet Governance in Meissen in Germany in July. EURid Regional Manager Central Europe Regina Fuchsova gave a presentation on “Internet governance and participation in the multi-stakeholder model (Part 4): IGF+ and Global Digital Compact”, accompanied by João Pedro Martins, the chair of EURid´s Youth Committee, who attended the SSIG as EURid´s fellow. The importance of the multi-stakeholder model and open internet were among the key points highlighted during that week at the SSIG on different occasions, including by European Commission representatives Pearse O’Donohue and Esteve Sanz.

‘It’s about communication’

Speaking on the sidelines of the forum, EuroDIG Support Association president Thomas Schneider said cooperation with EURid is important for the legitimacy of EuroDIG.

“It’s good that EURid is present and that you serve as an example, that EURid says ‘Ok, we have a role to play here’ in the discussions, but also in providing some stability for the structure of EuroDIG, which is important not just to us as the board, but for the existence of this dialogue platform”, he said.

In an increasingly connected world that he sees as “a neural network”, Schneider believes there are opportunities for better cooperation between EURid and EuroDIG in the future.

“EURid’s experience I think is something that is extremely valuable to be listened to by other stakeholders”, he said. “Given that you’re bringing together 27 countries and half a billion citizens on the domain-name level, you have an important example of how to organise and manage something technical that has societal, economical, and cultural implications”.

In the end, said Schneider, “It’s about communication, it’s about talking to each other, it’s about listening to each other, bringing in issues and taking issues home, just being here and participating”.

Still work to do

EURid´s support of multi-stakeholder and open internet initiatives will go on in the autumn season with its participation in the CodeWeek initiative and the IGF, and bringing content on similar topics to university students, its partners and the general public in the EU.

The aim of EURid support is to enable more stakeholder groups to be involved in the conversation on internet governance, and the importance of greater inclusivity was also highlighted at EuroDIG 2023 by Selma Kaymakci.

“We need more in-person inclusivity when it comes to regions that are not from Europe, and also I’d say women. Because I think that the conversations on the internet – and most of them are currently online – are limited, and actually being here has way more impact”, she said.