European Commission calls for an open, independent and accountable governance of the internet

The European Commission has called, in a strategic document, for more transparency and multilateral accountability in the governance of the internet. There are today 1.5 billion internet users worldwide, 300 million of which are in the European Union's 27 Member States. At present, a private US-based body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ( ICANN ), is responsible for coordinating key elements of the Internet.

With the expiry of the bilateral Joint Project Agreement between the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the US government due in September 2009, the Commission said that this private sector initiative should continue its leadership, but should operate within clear guidelines defined through an international dialogue. The EU also believes that future internet governance arrangements should comply with key principles, in particular, the respect for human rights and freedom of expression as well as the need to preserve stability and security of the internet.

The Commission today, in a Communication called 'Internet governance: the next steps', made proposals for the governance of the internet to be more open, transparent and inclusive. A key objective is that of accountability – including both internal (the decision-making bodies and general organisation of ICANN) and external accountability (multilateral accountability involving all countries of the world). This also means that those affected by decisions of governance bodies should have the possibility to lodge an appeal with an independent tribunal. The Commission also proposed that the network should be managed by private bodies within principles agreed upon by public authorities but without government interference in day-to-day operations.

As the Joint Project Agreement is ending now, the Commission believes that ICANN should become universally accountable, not just to one government but to the global internet community. Recently, the Commisioner for Information Society and Media underlined the importance of a fully privatised and independent ICANN, complying with the best standards of corporate governance, in particular with those on financial transparency and internal accountability, and subject to effective judicial review.

This is particularly relevant given that the next billion of internet users will mainly come from the developing world. The Commission said that the EU should initiate discussions with international partners on these issues, in particular on how to enhance the internet's resilience against accidental failure or deliberate attack.

The Commission's policy proposals want to reaffirm private initiative and ensure that the internet remains an engine of innovation, free speech and economic development.


The EU has always been in the forefront of international discussions on internet governance. In particular, the EU has been involved in the setting up of ICANN in 1998. The need to ensure the continued security and stability of the internet was a key priority pushed for by the EU, as was the need for private sector leadership and to have fully inclusive multi-stakeholder involvement in key policy making.