Regional Perspectives at the ITU (#1): Europe

11 Sep 2018

By Richard Wingfield

In October and November the ITU’s member states will be gathering for the most important event in the forum’s calendar: the Plenipotentiary Conference (or Plenipot).

As civil society groups preparing to engage with these member states ahead of the event, it’s important to remember that they won’t just be participating at the Plenipot as individual units. Here, and in other ITU processes, member states prepare, coordinate and, to varying degrees, engage on a regional basis.

Given that priorities and perspectives are frequently shared by countries in the same region, these common perspectives are often channeled through six formalised regional groupings, corresponding geographically to the Americas (CITEL), Europe (CEPT), Africa (ATU), the Arab States, the Commonwealth of Independent States (RCC), and the Asia-Pacific region (APT). These regional groupings often put forward common proposals at Plenipot, and take common positions in relation to the proposals of other groupings. These positions – determined collectively in advance of the Plenipot – sometimes vary significantly from grouping to grouping, which makes an understanding of the different groupings critical for anyone who wants to influence the Plenipot.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the different regional perspectives and how these are manifested through the different regional groupings. This will include who the key players are, what common proposals to expect, and how to engage with them. We start this series by looking at Europe and its regional grouping, CEPT.

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BACKGROUND

The European regional grouping is known as CEPT, which stands for Conférence européenne des administrations des postes et des télécommunications (in English, the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrators), and is the coordinating body for both telecommunication and postal organisations in Europe. Established in 1959, and based in Copenhagen, Denmark, it has 48 states as members, including every country in the Council of Europe (with the exception of Armenia) as well as Belarus and the Vatican City. Five CEPT members (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Russia) are also in another regional grouping, the Commonwealth of Independent States (RCC). CEPT’s stated overall goal is to collaborate “to harmonise telecommunication, radio spectrum, and postal regulations among its members in order to improve efficiency and coordination for the benefit of European society”.

CEPT is divided into three “business committees” and a permanent office. The three business committees are:

  • The Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) which is responsible for developing common policies and regulations in the field of electronic communications. It also acts as a focal point for information on spectrum use, and seeks to harmonise the efficient use of the radio spectrum, satellite orbits, and numbering resources across Europe. The ECC coordinates European engagement at the ITU’s R-Sector as well as at other international organisations. Within ECC, there is a Conference Preparatory Group (CPG) which is responsible for drafting the European Common Proposals for the R-Sector’s conference, the World Radiocommunication Conference.
  • The Committee on ITU Policy (COM-ITU) which is responsible for coordinating European engagement at the ITU for all activities outside of the R-Sector.
  • The European Committee for Postal Regulation (CERP) which is responsible for postal regulation and European coordination at another UN specialised agency, the Universal Postal Union, the ITU’s equivalent body in relation to postal communications.

These three business committees are themselves comprised of various groups and subcommittees which focus on particular policy areas or forums. The chairs of each of these three business committee together form CEPT’s presidency, and there is also a secretarial and support function provided by CEPT’s permanent office, the European Communications Office (ECO).

With regards to Plenipot, COM-ITU is the most important body within CEPT. At COM-ITU meetings, representatives of CEPT’s 48 members come together several times a year to discuss positions, coordinate, and agree common proposals (known as European Common Proposals, or ECPs, drafted by a COM-ITU Project Team). Among the 48 members, some are more active than others. In relation to this year’s Plenipot, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Romania are particularly active in leading CEPT’s work on certain issues. As noted above, five members of CEPT are also members of another regional grouping, the RCC, whose approach and position often differs from CEPT’s. Of these, Russia leads much of the work at at the RCC but also plays an active part in CEPT, giving it a uniquely influential role at the ITU.

As well as CEPT, the 28 members of the European Union, all of whom are members of CEPT, also coordinate as a regional bloc. This coordination is less formal than CEPT and does not involve the development of common proposals for Plenipot. Rather, the focus is on coordinating when a policy issue arises which falls within the competence of the EU, or relates to foreign policy questions where the EU has a shared position.

 

Motivations and priorities ahead of Plenipot 2018

Unsurprisingly (and as is the case with all regional groupings), CEPT does not explicitly reveal its strategy and priorities for Plenipot. However, some clues and insights can be gleaned from the its public documentation:

1. CEPT is cautious about ITU mandate expansion

In “A CEPT Agenda towards PP-18,” which sets out its broad approach towards Plenipot, CEPT struck a note of caution, with the introduction stating that:

While PP14 brought generally positive results for Europe, PP18 promises to bring renewed challenges for the Region. At a Global level, we face an era of political and economic uncertainty which combined with the notable dynamism of the ICT sector, poses a number of new and not predictable scenarios to Europe. Furthermore, it should be realized that a number of areas and fields of expertise which used to have a well defined scope, are getting increasingly interrelated.

Reading between the lines, it is clear that CEPT has concerns over the ITU’s direction of travel. In particular, by highlighting the fact that certain fields of expertise which used to have a “well defined scope” are now “increasingly interrelated”, CEPT seems to be alluding to the expansion of the ITU’s remit into areas – particularly within the ICT sector – which were once clearly outside it, and implying that expertise on these issues is lacking at the ITU. CEPT’s approach at Plenipot is therefore likely to try to ensure that the ITU’s mandate in relation to ICT-related issues does not expand further, and – in particular – to areas where there is limited subject-matter expertise. This is reflected in its ECPs (summarised in the next section of this blog post).

2. There’s a move towards greater regional cooperation and coordination

As well as concerns relating to the substantive scope of the ITU’s mandate, CEPT’s agenda also recognises the need for stronger regional coordination and engagement:

Over recent years at the ITU we have seen some other Regions acting in a much more unified and proactive way. At the same time, there has been a tendency for some European members to engage less. This poses a risk that Europe will lose influence in the ITU as other Regions become more active and more coordinated.

In practice, we are therefore likely to see a more coordinated effort among CEPT member states at Plenipot and more CEPT states engaging. Together, CEPT members make up around 25% of all ITU member states, giving the bloc significant potential clout where it takes a common position.

3. Multistakeholder participation is likely to be supported

Practice from the previous Plenipot in 2014 suggests that a number of CEPT members are likely to support and bring multistakeholder delegations to Dubai. The Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, for example, included representatives of businesses and civil society in their delegations in 2014. This means that civil society organisations will have the opportunity to join national delegations or – if unable to get onto their own national delegation – potentially even the delegations of other countries.

 

CEPT’s approach TO specific issues

At its meeting in June 2018, CEPT adopted 10 ECPs on a range of Resolutions. These give us a strong idea of CEPT’s approach towards some of the most important issues with implications for human rights which will be discussed at Plenipot.

  • Cybersecurity: ECP 2 proposes amendments to Resolution 130, which is the main resolution setting out the ITU’s mandate in relation to cybersecurity. CEPT’s proposals would see greater recognition of the role of the technical community, the private sector, individuals, and organisations in supporting cybersecurity. There would also be explicit recognition of the need for multistakeholder approaches towards cybersecurity development. In addition, the proposals also call for greater ITU cooperation with other relevant organisations, such as the the Internet Engineering Task Force, the International Organisation for Standardisation, and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Notably, the ECP proposals do not suggest that the ITU should develop any form of standardisation in relation to cybersecurity issues, nor any kind of international cybersecurity instrument. Instead, the ECP proposes a greater emphasis on awareness-raising of cybersecurity issues, particularly in developing countries, and better information-sharing around existing tools and resources developed by other regional and global organisations.
  • Counterfeit devices: ECP 4 proposes amendments to Resolution 188, which relates to counterfeit devices. It was at the last Plenipot in 2014 that this Resolution was adopted, amid concerns over (subsequently amended) text in the original draft which could have been used to justify government shutdowns of large numbers of mobile devices. The ECP does not propose any major revisions to this Resolution, and there are no proposals which could justify stronger action being taken by governments to restrict use of mobile devices.
  • Internet of Things/Digital object architecture: ECP 5 proposes amendments to Resolution 197 which relates to the Internet of Things (IoT). This is likely to be a key issue discussed at Plenipot, and the ECP does not propose any role for the ITU in setting standards in relation to IoT. Instead, it proposes that the ITU raise awareness of the particular challenges faced by developing countries in the adoption of IoT, and collaborate more with other relevant international and regional organisations when it comes to encouraging and assisting countries which need support in adopting IoT and IoT services. ECP 4, summarised above, would also delete the reference to digital object architecture in Resolution 188, the only such reference in an ITU Resolution.
  • Internet governance: ECP 8 proposes significant amendments to Resolution 102 which looks at international internet-related public policy issues. While the proposals do not call for the ITU to play a greater role on such public policy issues, they do call for greater adoption of “the multi-stakeholder approach” in internet governance-related forums, including the ITU, and for greater engagement with and participation of other stakeholders in the ITU’s relevant Council Working Group specifically. Most importantly, this ECP would open up the Council Working Group to other stakeholders, not just ITU members, building upon the existing open consultation processes on certain issues selected by the Council Working Group.

 

Opportunities for civil society engagement

There are limited opportunities for direct engagement with CEPT, because membership and attendance at meetings is limited to states. However, civil society organisations may be able to join national ITU delegations, or national coordination networks or mechanisms, where CEPT proposals are discussed, and engage there, indirectly influencing CEPT decisionmaking. In addition, CEPT is the most transparent of all six regional groupings, making public most of its meeting documents. These include both the items on the agenda and the draft ECPs which are being discussed. Civil society organisations can access and review these, and provide feedback on proposals to their national delegations.

On the issues, CEPT’s positions largely match those of many civil society organisations, and CEPT member states are likely to be responsive to positions related to ensuring the protection of human rights, as well as the need for greater openness, inclusiveness, and transparency at the ITU.