Pearse O’Donohue – Keynote 01 2023

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19 June 2023 | 16:00 EEST | Main auditorium | Video recording | Transcript
Consolidated programme 2023 overview / Pearse O’Donohue, Keynote

Pearse O’Donohue, Director for the Future Networks Directorate of DG CONNECT at the European Commission

About Pearse O’Donohue

Pearse O’Donohue is the Director for the Future Networks Directorate of DG CONNECT at the European Commission, dealing with policy development and research supporting the Digital Single Market as regards 5G networks, IoT, cloud and data flows and conceptualising new and innovative approaches towards service platforms and next generation Internet.

Until October 2014, he was Deputy Head of Cabinet of Vice-President Neelie Kroes, previous European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda. He was responsible for advising the Vice-President on the development and implementation of policy on electronic communications, networks and services, as well as broadband, spectrum and other related policies such as Internet governance.

Prior to that, Pearse was Head of the Radio Spectrum Policy Unit in the European Commission, DG CONNECT.

Prior to joining the European Commission, Pearse held posts in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Representation of Ireland to the EU in Brussels, and as Assistant Director of the Brussels office of the Irish Business & Employers’ Confederation.

Video record


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>> PEARSE O’DONOHUE: Thank you, and good afternoon.

My apologies, I’m really sad I can’t be with you. Nevertheless, I’m very interested in what will be happening in the next few days, myself and other colleagues in the European Commission because our support for EuroDIG continues to be strong and we recognize it as the leading forum in Europe to discuss topics of Internet Governance with the multistakeholder community. That then feeds into the global multistakeholder Internet governance which it is imperative to support, even more now in light of what’s happening this year.

The Global Digital Compact, the upcoming review of the WSIS, the Information Society, that will provide us with an opportunity to reaffirm and to strengthen the model and to ensure that we can improve it. We have to be loud advocates of this model against other voices which seek to go on another direction.

So first of all, I would like to thank the EuroDIG Secretariat to organize this dialogue, I heard about the work of volunteers as well as others in ensuring that the community can participate actively, like me online and also there present. It is great that we’re able to get back to these hybrid meetings.

We hope that the sessions that you’re going to go into will be fruitful, insightful, but also that they will feed into in a concrete way to other discussions, including on the global stage at the IGF in October. For EuroDIG this year, there are three very important themes, we can’t escape looking at the impact of the war from the perspective of the open Internet. The war has forced people to flee homes, separating people from loved ones and hugely disruptive from the economy of Ukraine. Ensuring connectivity in these crisis, it is even more critical allowing people to stray in touch and to be kept informed and it supports the provision of essential services. So we have been reminded in this terrible situation of the importance of resilience of the Internet infrastructure and despite the extremely difficult situation Internet connectivity in the Ukraine has shown a very high-level of resilience.

Of course, that’s partly due to the impressive, very brave efforts of Ukrainian network engineers and that they have put into repairing damaged infrastructure even in battle conditions, but it also proves that a distributed system with sufficient redundancy in terms of communication links, as well as redundancy in computing and storage, it is a vital component of the open, resilient Internet.

A number of instances surrounding the war have shown us that particularly in relation to the global system that there are issues with regard to the uptake of key Internet cybersecurity standards and best practices which we must ensure as a baseline to secure the global routing system and in times of war, of course, we have also seen that the Internet is essential with regard to Human Rights and the source of trustworthy and secure information.

So that is something which has led us to where we are now, with regards to, for example, the reaffirmation of Human Rights, also for the need of connectivity to gain access to the Internet and to have full access to The Rights.

The digital divide is still with us, in fact, it is worse. Nearly 3 billion people lack in connectivity. They cannot access the Internet pathway, and that’s something where international cooperation is required, and again where the efforts of EuroDIG, the other Internet Governance fora together with actions by other partners are essential.

We are playing our part, working with others, for example, on the declaration for the future of Internet. We have set out what we see as the vision necessary for an open, free global and interoperable Internet where the protection of Human Rights online is at the core with the global gateway, the European Union is mobilizing 300 billion euros for infrastructure investments to strengthen connections and connectivity, and to address the digital divide through the open Internet.

As regards to the European declaration on digital rights and principles, we have promoted the human-centric secure and sustainable digital environment where no one is left behind.

But that still doesn’t get us away from the real risks of Internet fragmentation which is another thing being examined in EuroDIG this week. You and us are continuing to evolve as an open network of networks with the Internet, so a single interconnection communication system for the whole world. So we’re committed to promoting the evolution of the current model of the Internet but inside of the multistakeholder and inclusive institutions that have been working so far, standards are another key issue where again the input of the multistakeholder community is essential. That’s to avoid fragmentation and to ensure that everyone has a say in the construction and improvement of the architecture of the Internet.

At the same time, multistakeholder Internet governance is key for opening that Internet and maintaining its decentralized network features to avoid fragmentation of the governance just as we give greater control to more and more players.

There are some states, some actors that propose a more centralized state-driven approach, and that could lead not to just fragmentation of the Internet but to a serious erosion of the benefits. We must combat all forms of Internet shutdowns, disruption of information and communication systems inhibits access to the open Internet and it is another form of fragmentation, but one which you can see in the wrong hands the Internet to be used as a tool for the suppression of Human Rights and free speech.

That is why the upcoming review of the WSIS provides us with an opportunity to affirm the multistakeholder Internet governance model. We have to start with our support for the IGF, the Internet Governance Forum and allow it to grow into something more inclusive, more sustainable. Building on institutions such as EuroDIG.

It is also applicable to new developments such as the Global Digital Compact, which is, of course, addressing a wide set of broad digital issues which are now pervasive across economies and society. Artificial intelligence that we just heard about, virtual worlds, now, that is an essential element to allow Internet and the Internet Governance to keep the pace of the developments and to make sure that the multistakeholder structures that we have continue to be able to contribute directly to the governance of that evolving system.

Lastly, just briefly on digital platforms and emerging technologies, I talked just briefly there about virtual world or Meta verses, those are one of the challenges of the next generation of the Internet that may enable a growth of new social and business opportunities. It may change how we interact with the Internet and also creating more immersive experiences. They may also engender some new risks. So it is important to have an open dialogue on the governance of such emerging technologies. That’s why the European Union, we have a strong baseline legislative framework that’s already in place, the Digital Services Act, the digital markets act, but we also create the space and the place for stakeholder involvement in ensuring that any norms, standards or codes of conduct are actually fit for purpose and take account of user’s needs, including very much so the human-centric Internet.

We apply our rules to enter need area elements of any digital service so that the framework is capable of developing along with virtual worlds in AI, as long as you the stakeholders are there to advise you goes, providing views on how the technology is evolving and how it can affect society and economy in general.

That’s one of the main functions of Internet Governance, and it is something which I hope that you will continue to contribute to and for which the EuroDIG is so well placed.

I thank you very much for your attention and I wish you a successful dialogue this week.

Thank you.