Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the 7th European Dialogue on Internet Governance: "Digital Society at Stake – Europe and the Future of the Internet"

Jun 12, 2014

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Steinmeier at EuroDIG 2014 Enlarge image Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the opening of EuroDIG 2014 in Berlin (© Trutschel/photothek.net)

Welcome to the Federal Foreign Office and Welcome to the Seventh European Dialogue on Internet Governance!

Thank you, Professor Rotert, for your introduction and thanks to you and your team from the Association of the German Internet Industry for organising this event.

The name of this conference is ‘European Dialogue on Internet Governance’ ---

Yes, you heard correctly: ‘Governance’ and ‘Dialogue’ in the same phrase!

To most people, ‘Governance’ sounds like ministries and boardrooms, rules and hierarchy. Not at all like dialogue.

Well, the internet is different.

Let me tell you a story about this. It is set in Brazil. No, this is not about the World Cup. Soccer will have to wait until tonight.This story is about ‘NET Mundial’, the global Internet Governance Conference that was held only a few weeks ago.I know that many of you participated in it.For the German Foreign Office, my colleague Dirk Brengelmann went to Sao Paolo.

And when he came back, Ambassador Brengelmann told me a story about how this conference worked. He said: When we were putting together the different parts of the final document, everybody got an equal say. A truly equal say: Because all participants –software engineers, entrepreneurs, NGO people and government people – all of them had to line up at the microphone to deliver their statements.

And each had the same time to talk – exactly two minutes.

Now I ask you: Can you imagine a NATO Defence Summit, where a minister waits in line to speak after a human rights activist? Or a G20 Meeting, where a President queues at the microphone? Or, in fact, can you imagine any politician who speaks for only two minutes? Can you imagine that? I can’t. And if I could, I am sure my protocol office would give me a very hard time…

The internet is different.

It is, and it should be, a free, safe and open space.

That is why we use this rather technical term: the multi-stakeholder model.

Put simply: It takes many to run the internet. And it takes many to make sure it remains free, safe and open!

That’s why this conference is a ‘Dialogue’. And that’s why I am glad about the diverse mix of people in this room: Entrepreneurs, regulators, academics, journalists, activists, diplomats and, of course, “techies”…

I wish you all a very warm welcome at the Auswärtiges Amt!

***

What makes the internet a multi-stakeholder space?

I think there are at least three reasons. The first is simple: There is no other way. The internet is too complex. The challenges are too big.

No actor alone can balance freedom and security in the digital world, or ensure human rights and equal access. No government. No corporation.

Not even the smartest programmer. I will have to say more about these challenges later.

The second reason is history. Do you know who received the first email in Germany? He just spoke to us. It was 1984, and Michael Rotert was neither in government nor in business, but a lecturer at the Technical University of Karlsruhe. Dear Prof. Rotert, I wonder what this email said…

“Sorry, I am late for lunch – but I invented a really fast way to tell you” …? Probably something like this. But seriously: It is stunning – and it says a lot about the incredible pace of digital progress – that somebody who took part in the early days of this revolution is still shaping it today.

***

That pace will become even faster! Which brings me to the third reason: the future of the internet. In the 30 years since Prof. Rotert’s first email, the internet has revolutionized our lives.

And experts agree that in the next 30, it will do so even more. Think of the economy: We are now at the start of what people call the “Industry Four Point Zero”. I like to think of it this way: Industry 4.0 happens when you bring together the people with hipster glasses and the people with yellow helmets. Industry 4.0 is the digitization of industry and manufacturing.

Now, as you know, Germany is very good at the stuff with yellow helmets. And that’s why bringing the ‘Mittelständler’ from Siegerland or Baden-Württemberg together with the people here on Berlin-Torstraße, will be a huge economic opportunity for Germany, and for Europe overall.

I think we should work together to make that happen!

***

Or think of politics: Think of the opportunities that the internet brings for participation in a democracy! To give you an example from my own work: We are in the middle of a big ‘Review’ of German Foreign Policy. The point of this Review is to debate our foreign policy as broadly and openly as possible. And that’s why much, if not most, of this debate happens online: through our website, on Twitter, Facebook and in Blogs. I encourage you to take a look at review2014.de – we could certainly use your “cyber-perspective”!

And, finally, think of society: Access to the internet means access to information, networks, ideas, jobs – to all that you need to make your way through modern society.

As you know, I am a Social Democrat. During our early days, over a 100 years ago, during the industrial revolution, one key idea of the workers movement was education. “Give every child a book” was their slogan.

My point is not: We should replace the book. But today, in the digital revolution, we should add another slogan: “Give every child a laptop”.

For in the 21st century, equal opportunity should include equal digital opportunity. If we fail at that; if we make the internet exclusive or unaffordable for some, the world of tomorrow will be even more unequal than it already is. We shouldn’t let that happen!

***

I stand here as a representative of the state. If you and I agree on the multi-stakeholder model, you might ask me: What is the role of the state in all of this?

When I look at this question in the broader public debate, I find that people are worried about two different things that pull into quite different directions.

On the one hand, there is fear of the omnipotent state. The fear that the age of Big Data is turning into an age of Big Brother. Here is what I think: I think the state has an important role to play in internet governance. But it can only do so, if it builds trust. Trust with all the stakeholders I have been describing: its own citizens, international partners, businesses, users.

The practices revealed by Edward Snowden have done the opposite. They have eroded the trust in European governments and in Europe’s most important ally, the United States, and that’s a set-back for all of us.

Yes, we need to balance freedom and security. But that balance needs to be reasonable, and the instruments of security need to be proportional to the costs they impose on our privacy. Rebuilding trust and discussing reasonable standards is what we hope to do when we, the German Foreign Office, welcome our American partners to a Transatlantic Cyber Dialogue, two weeks from now.

***

But on the other hand, I also sense in the public the opposite fear: a fear of the impotent state. People are worried that Big Brother lurks when they search for a restaurant or order a book online. And they wonder who really makes the rules about all this data: governments or the big corporations?

My view on this is the mirror image of what I have just said about trust: Big corporations need it also! The trust of their regulators, and most of all the trust of their customers. That thought brings big business to the table, when we debate internet governance in a forum such as here today.

***

It is between these two extremes, these fears, that the state has to steer its course.

Yes, the internet is a free and open space. But it is not a legal vacuum!

We need standards, and we will need them more and more because the internet will keep growing. Today, there are about two and a half billion internet users. In only five years, that number will be doubled. In such an ever more connected world, the invisible hand won’t do what we need. We need reliable and transparent standards, and it is states and international organizations who will have to coordinate and enforce them.

That brings me to my last point. Internet governance is a concern not for nations alone – but for foreign policy. After all, one of the great things about the internet is that it transcends borders. And we should make sure to keep it that way!

In fact, national rules will be useless, if they are not embedded in international standards. In many ways, our situation today reminds me of the debate we had on climate change some years ago. ‘A global challenge can only have global solutions’. That thought got us started at the climate conference in Rio 22 years ago. And that thought holds true for internet governance as well. I just hope it won’t take those in power as long to realize. We have started the process by taking initiative together with Brazil for a global “right to privacy” in the General Assembly of the United Nations.

***

Now, I have just noticed that my speech started in Sao Paolo, and it ended in Rio. You must think I am obsessed with the World Cup! That, too, starts in Sao Paolo, tonight, and will end in Rio…

I assure you: this was pure coincidence .But what can I say: I am German and I do have hopes.

I wish you all fruitful discussions and a good conference. Thank you.

© Federal Foreign Office

Steinmeier Opens EuroDIG

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin