I am honored to speak on behalf of the European Union.
The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan align themselves with this statement.
The European Union recognizes the huge potential of ICT in promoting socio-economic development and the role it can play to enable the fulfilling of international goals such as the Millennium Development Goals. In this regard, the EU particularly supports capacity-building, security measures and regional ICT initiatives.
The EU attaches high importance to the commitments and actions arising from the WSIS outcomes, in particular as a tool for promoting development objectives and under the patronage of the United Nations system. Two specific aspects of ICT have a major impact on development and poverty reduction the functioning of the Internet and its governance, and the digital divide. The EU is aware of the major potential of more open, and affordable global Internet access and recognizes the role the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) plays in this regard.
On behalf of the European Union, I would like to take this opportunity therefore to underline the importance of the 4th IGF which Egypt is hosting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November. The Forum will discuss, inter alia, a number of key issues for the development of the Internet including improving access for the next billion, promoting diversity, increasing security and privacy for users. It will also discuss the effective management of the Internets critical resources including the domain name system following the recent ending of the joint project agreement between the Internet Cooperation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) with the US Government.
We also welcome Lithuanias hosting of the Internet Governance Forum in 2010 and Kenyas offer to host the IGF in 2011.
The fate of the Kenyan IGF depends on whether the mandate for the IGF is renewed after the current five year mandate expires next year. No one group of stakeholders can deliver global solutions for the challenges and opportunities of the Internet. The EU believes that the IGF uniquely provides the opportunity to bring all the key stakeholders in the Internet together from industry, civil society, the technical community, parliaments and governments – to share ideas and experience, to compare best practice and solutions. They can then act innovatively and quickly, without the constraints of a negotiating forum, to secure the continued development of the Internet while preserving the dynamic nature of the Internet that has ensured its rapid growth and success to date. The EU therefore will support the renewal of the multi-stakeholder, non-decision making IGF when the mandate comes up for review in the General Assembly in December 2010.
As we all know, the Internet has become a critical part of the strategic infrastructure in societies. As internationally agreed, ICTs constitute an integral part of the so-called economic infrastructure, alongside with physical infrastructure and energy, which promote private sector development and sustainable job creation and which the donors can support through Aid for Trade. Moreover, thanks to its role as a powerful catalyst, the Internet can assist and facilitate the tackling of major global and national issues, such as environmental risks, conflicts, provide access to market information and strengthening democratic processes.
The EU acknowledges the uneven availability of communications infrastructure, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and the need to invest in building regional backbone and cross-border networks, as well as well-functioning national infrastructures. In this context the EU, in support of the WSIS outcomes, recognizes the importance of establishing enabling environments including a supportive regulatory framework and capacity development.
The high cost of Internet access in some countries obstructs the effective use of ICTs. However, deregulation and liberalisation of national markets would bring about more competition and lower prices. Shortage of external investment funds, worsened by the present global financial crisis, puts more emphasis on national policies and domestic resource mobilization to augment ICT availability. A more developed cross-sectoral utilization of existing government-owned fiber optic cables is one practical example of a solution that does not require huge new investment. We also note the enormous potential which the landing of undersea cables in East Africa has for stimulating the development of region networks – if combined with supportive regulatory policies. It is also worth noting that the establishment of national and regional Internet exchange points (IXPs) has had a remarkable impact in reducing the cost of access to the Internet and improving speed and quality of service, while also stimulating the development of local content and promoting diversity on the web.
As the WSIS process concluded, the greatest obstacle to increased ICT access was not lack of investment funds per se, but a lack of comprehensive investment proposals and a conducive investment climate, which include good governance and adequate legal systems. Additionally, it is necessary to strengthen multi-stakeholder cooperation and partnerships in order to tackle ICT issues. Cooperation between public actors, civil society and the private sector needs to be enhanced as is stated in the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action.
The inequality of access to Internet between developing and developed countries has long been the main focus of the ICT debate, but has now turned into the so called broadband divide. More developing countries have access to Internet than ever before, however, the slow speed dial-up Internet impedes the use of Internet services and applications. Africa, for example, accounts for less then 1 % of all the broadband subscribers in the world. In addition, even in regions where there is a reasonable amount of ICT connectivity, an inequality of access can exist between urban and rural areas and this inequality negatively impacts the poorest. The European Union places high importance on combating both the digital and broadband divide.
The EU is determined to implement the policy recommendations of the Tunis Agenda in its development policy. We would like to reiterate the conclusion from the Tunis Summit – that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas and knowledge are essential for the information society. In addition, ICTs have enormous potential to expand access to quality education, to boost literacy and universal primary education, and to facilitate the learning process itself, thus laying the groundwork for the establishment of a fully inclusive and development-oriented Information Society and knowledge economy which respects cultural and linguistic diversity.
Applying an equal access perspective, including gender, in this regard is in our view fundamental to a successful bridging of the digital divides. The European Union will strive to implement this global consensus on the importance of human rights in the Information Society.
Finally, the European Union reiterates its support for regional initiatives to develop ICT infrastructure and improve ICT access, such as within the framework of the Africa-EU partnership on developing Knowledge-based Societies and on Science, Information Society and Space, the Connect Africa and the Trans-Eurasian Information Super Highway. Such concrete initiatives are of utmost importance to improve connectivity and support the formation of e-Government, e-health, e-education and e-commerce.
* Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.