E-G8 and CNN: the paradigm of French multi-stakeholderism

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The e-G8 Forum that recently took place in Paris was meant to involve various stakeholders in the elaboration of  Internet policy making. This is questionable, to say the least. Indeed, the choice of an invitation-only format and the disproportioned make-up, essentially made up of CEOs and Government representatives, exposed the e-G8 to a plethora of criticism, mainly focused on the exclusion of the civil society from discussions.

The e-G8 probably didn’t demonstrate the best approach  to understand a heterogeneous and complex phenomenon such as the Internet. However, the e-G8 isn’t the only initiative designed  by the French Government in order to involve different stakeholders in the realm of Internet regulation. In fact, few people know that the Elysée is currently seeking advice from the CNN. No fret: the French Executive is not spending its precious time watching news on tv. Indeed, the acronym CNN doesn’t allude to the notorious broadcasting company, rather stands for the new Conseil national du numérique (National Digital Council).

The CNN is an advisory body, specifically created by President Sarkozy on April 29th by Presidential Decree 2011-476. The purpose of the Council is to “enlighten the Government on every issue regarding the digital sphere”. It is a direct consequence of the France numérique 2012 plan, a digital economy development plan presented in October 2008 that established to reach the considerable goal of transforming France into a “grand digital nation” by the end of 2012.

Back in November 2010, Mr. Besson was appointed as new Minister of Industry, Energy and Digital Economy and one of his very first initiatives was to ask Mr. Kosciusko-Morizet, founder of PriceMinister.com, to coordinate an ad hoc working group to submit a report on a potential CNN. In February 2011, this report was handed over and enumerated the features that the new entity should have had. Particularly, it highlighted the paramount importance of the nature of the CNN as the privileged interlocutor of the French Government and not as a regulator. If, by the way, if the name Kosciusko-Morizet sounds familiar, it is because the former State Secretary for the Digital Economy was Natalie Kosciusko-Morizet, current Minister of Ecology and sister of PriceMinister’s head, Pierre.

Hence, President Sarkozy’s desire was to create an advisory body that allows the main actors of the French Internet to throw light on every initiative concerning the digital economy. This ambitious purpose was, in fact, to allow two different worlds to stop ignoring each other and interact, in order to avoid some eventful experience such as the Hadopi saga. One could therefore consider the CNN as an endeavour of the French Government to finally consider a multi-stakeholder approach to the Internet and take the path of Internet Governance instead of Internet Government.

Let’s focus on multi-stakeholderism for one second. This approach, the genuine essence of  Internet Governance, was formally established during the second phase of  the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005. In fact, paragraph 34 of the Tunis Agenda defines Internet Governance as “the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet”. Hence, Internet Governance relies on the intimately intertwined relationship between these different-natured stakeholders in order to fashion the evolution of the Net, i.e. multi-stakeholderism.

According to the aforermentioned definition, multi-stakholderism is an inclusive process, essential in coping with the Internet and orienting its evolution. Now, back in France, one could naively suppose that the Internet Governance breeze is blowing at the Elysée but, sadly, this is not true. Indeed, looking at the composition of the Conseil national du numérique, bewilderment arises: 17 counsellors out of 18 are Internet intermediaries and the one lacking is a publisher. This “business oriented” approach vaguely recalls that of the e-G8. Isn’t the private sector slightly over-represented? Who is representing the interests and needs of the French Internet community? Furthermore, the members of the CNN are directly appointed by the French President, without any public consultation or election: this top-down appointment indeed reminds this author of  the invitation-only format of the e-G8.. Is this a sufficiently independent procedure?

The CNN, like the recent e-G8, partakes in a business-oriented model, one that is truly distanced from the Internet Governance dimension, and resembles more an attempt to secure the private sector’s interests rather than promote the democratisation of the Net. Who will take advantage of the CNN? If we were in the United States, the image of the “fat cats” could be invoked, but considering the more Gallic context, it may be more appropriate to conjure up images of “fat roosters”.

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