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Internet Governance 25 March 2013

Reflecting on my role as Interim Chair for the Open Consultations and MAG Meetings

On 25 February 2013, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo sent an open letter to the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), informing them that he had asked me to serve as Interim Chair for the Open Consultations and MAG Meetings. I was asked beforehand whether I would be ready to accept this role, but I had no confirmation that this would happen until the day the letter was sent out. On contemplating this, my decision to accept was driven by three factors: first, it is an honour to be asked by the United Nations to steer any process; second, I had to take into consider how this role would relate to my current role at the Internet Society; and, finally, I felt greatly motivated to contribute to the future of the IGF and to the community that has been built around it over the years.

I consider being appointed to this role as a great honour not only for myself but also for the Internet Society. The UN’s choice reflects the high esteem the UN holds for the Internet Society as a trusted partner that works for the advancement of the Internet as well as for the global public interest. I have been greatly encouraged by many of you, both in writing and in person, either privately or publicly, during the Paris meeting and I thank you for that. I am committed to do my best to meet the expectations of all stakeholders and make sure that the IGF preparatory process will remain faithful to its core values whilst allowing all stakeholder groups to participate and contribute on an equal footing.

Of course, I fully understand that there are also some concerns on my taking on this role. Some fear that I could be biased as I represent one stakeholder group, the Internet community – the “Academic and Technical Communities” as defined by the Tunis Agenda. To an extent, such fears can be understandable. However, let me make something very clear: the role of a chair is not to promote the interests of his/her background or constituency, be that a government or any other stakeholder group. From previous functions I held with the Swiss Government, I have a proven track record of being able to remain neutral as a chair. Moreover, WSIS veterans may remember that in 2003 in the final phase of the Geneva phase of the Summit I was asked to chair several negotiating groups, including those on media, human rights and Internet governance. Back then, my chairmanship was generally appreciated by all parties concerned. Based on this experience, I feel that I do not have to prove whether I can function in an unbiased manner.

In the same vein, the UN’s choice of someone working for the Internet Society documents the trust the UN places in the Internet Society. As the community already knows, the mission and mandate of the Internet Society is, first and foremost, to preserve the open and global Internet and to ensure that the Internet continues to develop in a way consistent with its core values. This is in line with what the discussions advanced through the IGF and with the commitment of its stakeholders.

For me, the role of a chair means seeking to build consensus on the way forward and not to push one or the other direction. My commitment to the IGF process is to seek a common understanding and build bridges between different positions. Of course this may not always allow for the best possible solution, but it will need a compromise of all parties concerned. So, I only have one agenda, which is the same all IGF stakeholders share: to see the IGF succeeding and continuing to be a space where vibrant discussions take place and everyone is able to participate on an equal footing.

As an interim chair I am, ultimately, accountable to all of the IGF stakeholders, to all its participants and to everyone who has been following the Internet governance discussions over the past few years. To this end, I am looking forward to working with you all, exchange views, share our experience in order to promote the work that has been conducted through the IGF’s multistakeholder framework.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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