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EC tells Europe and ICANN to make peace

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What does ICANN make of it?

We spoke to Paul Verhoef - who was present when Mr Liikanen gave his speech - and asked him what he made of it. "I don't think it was a shot across our bows," he said. "He was saying the industry will need to get together; that criticising may be fun but it doesn't help anybody. He was saying that if [ccTLDs] don't partner with ICANN, the alternative is something they would not like at all.

"It was not a shot at ICANN but at critical elements that find it more convenient to criticise rather than make it work." Liikanen, he says, has stuck his next out to support the self-regulation that ICANN represents against other parts of the world, but if Europe can't be seen to get it to work, then it leaves him with few arguments.

Unlike the ICANN of old, Mr Verhoef accepts that some of the ccTLDs criticisms may be justified, but he insists on ICANN the organisation being separated from ICANN staff. ICANN is made up of the supporting organisations and as such only it is able to change things like its notorious bylaws, he argues. The staff are just there to do the will of the organisation.

It is an ingenious argument in that it can prevent the staff from becoming personally involved in disputes and also lends weight to the idea that if the ccTLDs want to change ICANN, they need to do it from within by signing up to ICANN. But, like the UK system of Whitehall civil servants and the politicians that make up the government, it would be naive not to recognise where the real power lies.

Rebuilding trust

Such an approach is already paying dividends after years of bitter fighting however. Verhoef accepts that ccNSO is a problem at the minute but says there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes that is slowly rebuilding trust after past events have left many suspicious of ICANN promises.

Nevertheless, he warns that some people's requests for watertight guarantees are unrealistic and people who are "not used to compromise" will have to find a way of doing just that. With the exception of Europe, the rest of the world is very keen on how ICANN is progressing, he says.

But, if Verhoef is to be believed, these tensions are dissipating. With a Brussels office, ICANN can communicate with the main European players face-to-face rather over the phone with a nine-hour time lag. This has led to promising bilateral discussions where there is more agreement than disagreement over how the Internet should be run and ICANN's role.

Verhoef refused to say which countries he was speaking with (but we can confirm that the two most important - the UK and Germany - are included among them), but said that more details will be given as soon as they are ready.

Promisingly, Verhoef agrees with Erkki Liikanen's "subsidiarity" model of Internet governance. "There are a number of issues that ICANN needs to decide. Addressing security and stability for example - there are technical choices to be made, with operating and cost implications, where if we don't have compatibility there will be problems. But as for the actual implementation, countries should be able to address that nationally."

So ICANN seems to be confident it can come to agreement. But what does the other side think?

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