Digital Diplomacy – from anticipation to action (eng)

Malta, 18.11.2022 - Allocuzione del presidente della Confederazione e capo del Dipartimento federale degli affari esteri (DFAE) Ignazio Cassis - in occasione del Malta Digital Summit - fa fede la versione orale

Mr. Minister,
Dear Dr. Kurbalija,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by congratulating DiploFoundation, its founding director and his whole team for putting together such a thought provoking and highly interesting program for this Digital Summit here in Malta.

20 years ago Malta and Switzerland set the ground for the creation of the DiploFoundation. Back then it was a visionary idea to merge information and communication technology with diplomatic practice. The World Wide Web was only invented in 1989 - at CERN in Geneva - and Google was still a startup that build its first Server with LEGO bricks.

Today the need for diplomacy to adapt quickly to a new arena of interests and governance in the digital world is more important than ever. DiploFoundation has become an important support for the implementation of the Swiss strategy on digital foreign policy. I would like to personally acknowledge Jovan Kurbalija, the founding director of the DiploFoundation and its Board for their achievements.

It is also due to the excellent bilateral relationship between the Republic of Malta and Switzerland that has grown over the years that I am standing here in front of you. Hosting this Digital Summit together is a great sign of the quality and appreciation of our cooperation.

It is therefore a great pleasure, that today we will sign Switzerland’s second contribution to Malta in order to strengthen the partnership between Switzerland and Malta. It shows the solidarity of Switzerland as a country in the middle of Europe and will open many opportunities for bilateral collaboration in the near future.

In addition, Switzerland and Malta will both be non-permanent members of the UN Security Council for the next two years. Certainly, our election to this body comes at more challenging times than we have seen in a long time. But we are determined to do our utmost to contribute actively to peace and security in the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We tend to forget how much we rely on new technologies in our daily lives and how rapidly they develop. It is imperative that we stay at the forefront of new developments in these technologies and at the same time find effective formats of governance. The ultimate goal must be to find a balance between fostering innovation and ensuring technological developments benefit us all.

Anticipating and understanding global technological trends is in the DNA of DiploFoundation and high on the Agenda of the Malta Summit. I highly welcome the conversation and exchange. We have to accelerate the diplomatic response to the opportunities and the challenges that are brought about by science and technology in order to achieve inclusive, equitable and effective governance.

But we can only do so if we see those trends coming, if we understand their potential impact for good and bad - if we anticipate them. This is what anticipatory science diplomacy must be able to accomplish. It is what the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator GESDA is promoting. I am thus thrilled to see that Diplo and GESDA are already partnering on concrete projects.

But there’s already the next question emerging: How do we benefit from anticipation?

First, it allows us to analyze and classify. In the multitude of terms, processes and issues involved with new technologies in the digital world, we need to understand as early as possible what needs to be regulated and what not. And it allows a better sense of the limits, we have to be aware of based on democratic values and human rights.  

Secondly, considering the pace of technological developments, the political processes are necessarily lagging behind when it comes to regulation. But we need to shorten the gap and anticipation helps us to be better prepared.

We all want better and smarter “regulation” that doesn't hamper innovation. For Switzerland, as a world leading country in innovation and research, this is very important. And we had some success in this. For instance with the Blockchain and Distributed ledger technologies (DLT).

In 2021, Switzerland became one of the first countries to enact legal regulations for this technology.

Soon 20 years ago, the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) took place in Geneva.
It was just the year before that Switzerland and Malta had founded DiploFoundation with the mandate to facilitate the participation of small and developing states in internet governance. Since then it trained thousands of diplomats, international civil servants, and scholars.

Another key institution in the Geneva digital ecosystem is the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) with its key message “Where technology meets humanity”. Their  recently published Geneva Digital Atlas 2.0, shows the importance of Geneva in global digital governance:
•    It is in the corridors of the International Telecommunication Union that diplomats, technicians, companies and civil society organizations cross paths and discuss standards and International Cooperation;
•    The UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva. Lately, digital issues havecalled the attention of the council. The misuse of surveillance technologies and internet shutdowns are—unfortunately—far too common.

At the World Trade Organization, digital issues such as data regulation make their way into Trade Facilitations Agreements. The growth of the digital economy is a great opportunity for world trade. But this will be fulfilled only through infrastructure improvements & capacity building. These are just a few examples of international organizations based in Geneva, where critical debates at the intersection of policy-making and technology unfold. Switzerland, through its host state policy has the goal to further strengthen the Geneva ecosystem.

The Geneva Internet Platform, as the main entry point for digital debates and actors, especially from small and developing countries, plays a crucial role in further strengthening the position of Geneva as a global hub for digital governance.

The Digital transition should benefit everyone. This aspiration is also the marker for the current work towards a Global Digital Compact. Switzerland is proud to have pioneered this process by hosting the UN Internet Governance Forum in 2017 in Geneva, which identified the need for stronger digital cooperation.

This recognition led one year later to the establishment of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation by the UN Secretary-General, whose executive-directors were the newly appointed UN Tech Envoy, Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill and DiploFoundation Director Jovan Kurbalija.
Their recommendations fed into the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and are today a milestone in the process of developing a Global Digital Compact (GDC) by 2024.

Switzerland is committed to contributing to a process which is as open and inclusive as possible, which fully seizes the rich diversity of views, knowledge and expertise that the Geneva digital ecosystem has to offer. For instance, the Internet Governance Forum, with its secretariat in Geneva, has a key role to play in nourishing the GDC.

•    Looking ahead, we should anticipate key technological developments and their impact on diplomacy and global governance;
•    keep on building upon the foundations laid out in Geneva at the World Summit on the Information Society;
•    work towards a Global Digital Compact that will define a path for the world on its digital journey by strengthening capacity building, inclusivity and connectivity.

Mr. Minister,
Dear Dr. Kurbalija
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Malta and Switzerland can be proud of their common organization and we should continue to support its evolution into the third decade of its existence.

Because Digitalization will stay with us and the need for digital diplomacy will only grow.
I wish you all a good continuation of the Summit and insightful debates.

Indirizzo cui rivolgere domande

Comunicazione DFAE
Palazzo federale ovest
CH-3003 Berna
Tel. Servizio stampa: +41 58 460 55 55
Twitter: @EDA_DFAE

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Dipartimento federale degli affari esteri