Interview with Commissioner Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Why is the European Commission fighting within ICANN to defend Geographical Indications (GIs) on ".wine" and ".vin"?
Protecting GIs in the wine sector is very important for the EU: economically and politically. As you know, Europe is the most important wine producer in the world, with some of the world's most well-known wine regions. The characteristics of our "origin wines" are a major asset: I know EFOW readers need no convincing of that. And the EU rightly protects that asset in internal legislation; as well as through international and bilateral agreements. As in many other areas, we now face a challenge for how to maintain those principles in an online age. As digital agenda Commissioner, my priority is to keep the internet open, unified and secure to continue delivering innovation and economic growth. Consistently with that goal, the Internet cannot become a lawless "wild west": the rule of law is important online as well as off, not least when protecting legal rights like Geographical Indications. So I have made my concerns very clear to ICANN: the new generic top level domain names (gTLDs) .vin and .wine could have a serious negative impact, if implemented without adequate protection for those who hold GI rights. And of course the risk is not just to producers, but also consumers. If a consumer sees a website with a GI name they are more likely to assume it is genuine. Yet that website could be selling a wine that has nothing to do with that region or, worse, counterfeit products. Cybersquatting is already more than common in the GI domain, and very prone to misuse even within the EU; without clear rules this abuse could get worse rather than better.
What will happen if there is no agreement on safeguards for GI wines for .vin and .wine?
The Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN has some role to play in deciding on the need for safeguards. There have been debates and disagreements. The EU's position, supported by many countries around the world, and even by a number of parties in the USA, is that ICANN should not delegate the two gTLDs without adequate safeguards. To do otherwise would not be acceptable politically, economically, or legally. But there can be solutions without full consensus in the GAC, and a few targeted safeguards could fix this problem. So I am still hopeful that we can find solutions agreeable to all, both right holders and applicants. That would enable ICANN to delegate the two strings safely, without the risk of cybersquatting, illegal activity or fragmenting the Internet. Ultimately such an outcome is in the interests of all parties.
In light of this dossier, what future does the European Commission envisage for Internet governance?
I remain firmly attached to the multi-stakeholder model for governing the Internet: where all stakeholders actively participate in finding a solution that works for all. Yet that has to be a reality, not just words: the Internet is a vital global resource, and ICANN cannot ignore legitimate concerns from Europe or elsewhere. It would be very wrong if people around the world took the impression that ICANN and the "multi-stakeholder model" were actually a cover-up for a system which only defends the interests of one country. Instead, this system must work for all, it must allow Governments to uphold the law on and off line, and we must have a clear common definition of what it means for processes to be inclusive and transparent. We are working hard to improve this system: to make it easier for everyone to understand and engage with Internet governance; to improve how ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee functions, so public policy interests are legitimately recognised, with all Governments on an equal footing; and to consult widely on the future of Internet governance - transparency, inclusivity, and the role of different partners like governments, industry and civil society. The consultation closed on 8 November and we will be looking very closely at responses.