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US and EU could be victims of ICANN power shift

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2013, 10:37:27 (UTC), Domain Policy

Europe and North America could see an influx of new nations under changes to the way ICANN defines geographic regions, potentially diluting the influence of EU states and the USA.

Europe could soon be joined by several Middle Eastern countries, while North America could be expanded to encapsulate Caribbean nations.

The changes, which would alter the composition of key ICANN decision-making bodies, could come as a result of the Geographic Regions Review Working Group, which delivered a draft final set of recommendations over the weekend, after four years of deliberations.

Among its conclusions, the WG found that there are “anomalies” in how ICANN handles regions and that countries should have the right to move to a different region if they choose.

ICANN has long divided the world into five regions (North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean) along unique and sometimes unusual lines.

The regions are used to ensure diversity in the make-up of its board of directors, among other things. ICANN’s bylaws state that no region may have more than five directors on the board.

The working group was tasked with figuring out whether the current geographic regions made sense, whether there should more or fewer regions, and whether some countries should change regions.

ICANN’s regions as they stand today have some weirdness.

Cyprus, for example, is categorized as being in Asia-Pacific, despite it floating in the Mediterranean, being a member of the European Union and largely speaking Greek.

Mexico and most Caribbean islands are in Latin America, as far as ICANN is concerned, leaving the US, Canada and US overseas territories as the North American region’s only eight members.

Then there are anomalies relating to “mother countries”. The Falkland Islands, for example, is physically found in the Latin American region but is classified as European by ICANN because it’s a British territory.

Under changes proposed by the working group, many of these anomalies could slowly shake themselves out.

But the working group decided against forcing nations from one region into another (with an opt-out) as had been proposed in 2011. Instead, countries could choose to change regions.

This is the key recommendation:

The Working Group recommends that the Board direct Staff to prepare and maintain ICANN’s own unique organizational table that clearly shows the allocation of countries and territories (as defined by ISO 3166) to its existing five Geographic Regions. The initial allocation should reflect the status quo of the current assignments. However, Staff should also develop and implement a process to permit stakeholder communities in countries or territories to pursue, if they wish, re-assignment to a geographic region that they consider to be more appropriate for their jurisdiction.

While this looks like a free-for-all — there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping France moving to Africa, for example — in practice the working group seems to be expecting certain shifts.

For example, some Middle Eastern nations had expressed an interest in moving from Asia-Pacific to Europe, while some Caribbean island states apparently feel more aligned with North America.

Assuming the recommendations are taken on board and regional switches are approved on a case-by-case basis, both North America and Europe could soon swell to include new countries.

The working group’s recommendations would avoid the seismic shifts previously envisaged, however.

There will be no separate region for Arab states, which had been requested. Nor will there be any forced move of territories into regions different from their mother countries (which would have proved politically difficult in the case of disputed land masses such as the Falklands).

While the report is being called “final” it has been presented for public review until October, after which it will be formally sent to ICANN’s board.

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