Geneva carves its place as a home for internet governance

The United Nations, Geneva. Source: Keystone.

In the era of enhanced personal freedom and globalized economies, the internet has become part of global society in an intricate and challenging way. As a result, internet governance has emerged as a critical field in its own right in addressing existing challenges and anticipating new ones. And Geneva is a significant actor in the process.  

That’s according to the Fondation pour Genève’s second « Etat des lieux pour la Genève internationale ». The report, published today in collaboration with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, examines the canton’s role in the future of internet governance.

Geneva as a historical hub. The Geneva-based United Nations agencies, Permanent Missions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and academic and research institutes have played an essential part and continue to contribute to policy discussions. Their expertise is identified in three clusters of activity: Digital for Development, Digital Trust, and Digital Rights. Fifty per cent of the digital policy issues mapped by the Geneva Internet Platform are addressed in Geneva. Moreover, the report highlights that other questions related to artificial intelligence ethics and policy will also become the center of future discussions here.

Digital Geneva assessed. Opportunities to maintain a strong position in internet governance are numerous. But International Geneva also reveals some gaps. Only one internet company – Microsoft – has a permanent presence in Geneva and most NGOs and foundations focusing on internet governance issues are based abroad. Moreover, Geneva is not the only designated hub. Washington DC, Brussels or Paris are also active, although none seem to supplant Geneva individually or as a whole for the moment.

Recommendations. The report underlines the importance of enforcing the role of Geneva in internet governance to ensure its strong future and lists recommendations for all stakeholders.

  • Attract stakeholders: particularly, those missing in Geneva today, i.e. Internet companies and civil society organizations.

  • New initiatives: strengthen the work done in the past as well as the clusters’ role, by organizing new annual events or creating more formal organizations.

  • Increase cooperation: by reinforcing multilateral partnerships, creating new multi-stakeholder mechanisms, and getting a better picture of who does what.

The bottom line. International Geneva has a strong foundation for internet governance. But as the digital environment changes, Geneva needs to evolve to secure and retain its place as a leading hub.

Geneva Solutions is the media partner on the round table co-organized by the Fondation pour Genève and the Graduate institute on 16 September 2020.