Snippets from the Paris Peace Forum 2019: The Macron Message, Digital Anxieties and Gender

Although I may have had a strong negative impression overall of how the 2019 Paris Peace Forum was managed, I did pick up some interesting insights on a variety of topics. Let me reiterate: I was truly disappointed with the lack of inclusiveness, lack of clarity of programming and lack of follow-through  or even wrapping-up messaging by the Forum’s organizers. Nonetheless, the Grande Halle de Villette apparently attracted some 7000 participants, many of whom were there to promote their fledgling projects (over 100 of them) but also to share their expertise, on advancing multilateralism.  So there was a lot to choose from. Here are my snippets on the Eurocentric highlights of the opening ceremony, the dominance throughout the Forum of digital-related interests and the cross-cutting nature of the Forum’s gender-related initiatives. Future snippets are in the works on the Forum’s role in introducing new perspectives on climate change, a new civic observatory for the OECD and a rather interesting (for me, anyway) discussion of border management issues.

In general, the Forum seemed to operate on a “shotgun” principle – try everything and see what hits a target. The +100 projects were organized somewhat haphazardly into six thematic areas, – New Technologies, Environment, Peace and Security, Culture and Education, Inclusive Economy and Development.  I took photos of most of their display stands.  I especially liked the ones on “Derisking Construction Projects”:

“Growing Food in Impossible Places”: and







“Kakuma (a large refugee camp) as a Marketplace”.

I also attended or passed through over 20 events. So my own perceptions are merely reflections of one participant among the hundreds of projects and/or events, and among the thousands who reportedly passed through during the three (or two) days of the Forum.

Opening Ceremony: Ursula van der Leyden

The President-elect of the European Commission was perhaps the most well known, high-level political figure to address the Forum. She was articulate in laying out her plans for a more outward-looking European Union. In particular, she pledged to increase the EU budget for external action by 30 per cent, with a particular emphasis on sustainable solutions. At a number of subsequent events at the Forum, her pledge was enthusiastically welcomed as a sign of an elevated commitment to action on climate change at the EU.

Opening Ceremony: Emmanuel Macron

No new revelations came from President Macron, who had already scandalized the media in the Economist’s report over the weekend before the Forum when he described the “brain death” of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He did speak about three “crises without precedent” – which appeared to mean crises of democracy, climate change and migration. And he lamented the inadequacy of responses to these crises, again speaking in “threes” – (1) ignoring them (i.e. being as “idle”, implicitly, as NATO), (2) reverting to hyper-nationalism or (3) imposing a hegemony. But then, Europe, he said, can be a laboratory for multilateralism and can even build a new equilibrium for dialogue between the US and China. Europe, he continued, has an agenda to share with the world on environment, migration, geography, democracy. New avenues for cooperation that he cited included the Christ Church Accord (on hate speech), new alliances (e.g. the Alliance for Multilateralism) and, most importantly it seems but without any specifics, new actors. Oh well. Clearly, President Macron wants to work with Ursula van der Leyden and  figure out a way to establish himself as the political leader of a vibrant alternative to the US and China or a go-between (but no mention of Russia).

The Alliance for Multilateralism – on DIGITAL Governance

An overwhelmingly male SERIES of panellists talked about this new Alliance for Multilateralism, something which President Macron had featured in his speech at the opening ceremony, and something which had apparently been launched recently by the French convening an informal group of foreign ministers in New York (presumably at the UN General Assembly). As it became evident listening to all of the panellists, this was actually an alliance for multilateralism specifically in the arena of DIGITAL governance! So the whole focus of the panellists, most of whom were foreign ministers or high-tech corporate representatives, was on the governance of cyberspace, on the premise that “digital” drives our democratic progress.

The Indian Foreign Minister summarized a five-point strategy for this Alliance: (1) define a clear role for states and governments to regulate cyberspace, (2) but still maintain the importance of the private sector in the digital economy, (3) keep the digital economy “open”, (4) establish a coordination mechanism for global and speedy responses to crises, and (5) ensure and allow countries to maintain varied forms of cultural narratives. One of the three panels did focus on finding new incentives for online content moderation, but it wasn’t entirely clear whether this new Alliance would get off the ground or whether these fellows would actually concentrate on building new coalitions WITHIN existing organizations.

Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace

This was another initiative for which the Paris Peace Forum had been cleared as the setting to announce its final report on “Advancing cyberstability”.  To be sure, this was not just a French-inspired initiative, but one that had been launched by a variety of interested parties, including the Dutch. Its focus was on expanding the issue of cyberspace stability beyond the domain of governments to include other non-state actors as stakeholders. After a three-year effort, the Commission’s report advocates eight norms to be applied to all stakeholders, both states and non-state actors. The one that stands out is a prohibition of disrupting the technical infrastructure essential to elections, referenda or plebiscites. But there are eight of these norms relating to the upholding the integrity of the public core of the Internet, products and services, disclosure of vulnerabilities, prioritizing of security and stability and non-aggression. Co-chaired by Michael Chertoff of the USA, Latha Reddy of India and Marina Kaljurand of Estonia (and an EU official), the Commission has proposed a standing “multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism” to address stability issues.

One has to wonder about overlap with other initiatives, a long list of which are mentioned in the Introduction of this report. Two of these, in any case, were featured at other parallel events of the Paris Peace Forum – that is, the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace and the Christ Church Charter. On this particular event, the Dutch and French ministries of foreign affairs, the Internet Society and Microsoft were among the partners, and the Commissioners were a global array of experts on cybersecurity and/or multilateralism. So it seems that all of these initiatives are related to each other. And certainly, issues of cybersecurity and digital democracy permeated much of the “gestalt” or “atmosphere” of the Forum. What was missing, though, was the range of initiatives NOT managed by either the French government or Microsoft (even though one of the supporting organizations was the Open Society Foundations).

Gender – the Challenge of Inclusiveness

As a strong advocate of gender equality over the years, I did make a point of monitoring both the gender-specific events and the extent to which the whole Forum embraced and practiced gender parity. On this latter point, I was struck by how many of the panels were skewed to men (on most subjects other than gender) or women (on gender), although a rough tally from the speakers list shows some 175 male speakers and some 110 female speakers.  And gender was missing from much of the content of panellists’ presentations or projects on display that were not specifically focused on gender. As for the gender-specific events, however, there were a number of useful observations or initiatives.

Gender – a Paris Hub for International Gender Champions

For starters, though, President Macron did not himself mention gender in his opening speech, and he did not appear in any other “public” event at the Paris Peace Forum. Even so, the Forum served as the occasion for the launching of the Paris “hub” of something called International Geneva Champions. The Geneva-based organizers of the hub even announced this new Paris hub as being launched “with the exceptional participation of President Emmanuel Macron”. This is a bit odd, since the panel event that was identified as the launch event for this Paris hub did not include an appearance by the President.  In fact, that event was not even listed on the printed programme! But there it was – held, as I noted while passing, right next door to another event featuring the Alliance for Multilateralism that I had already committed to attend. Nonetheless, the Champions website does show a news item for the launch that includes a group photo with the President. Perhaps this was at one of those non-public launch events on the day that was by invitation only to “members” of the Paris Peace Forum community. (See my previous snippet about this. And, by the way, the Paris Peace Forum website still does not have information about how one can become a “member” of this apparently very select and closed community.)

It is odd, furthermore, that the International Geneva Champions was among the ten projects chosen in 2018 for its approach to “innovative global governance” to receive a year of “start-up” funding”. I must admit that I had heard this before but had forgotten about it. I am, after all, an alumna of the Geneva hub, given that I used to be the head of the Global Social Observatory, based in Geneva. I was pleased and honored to be among these Champions. And while it is admirable that the initiative promotes a dialogue on gender parity involving senior-level diplomats and heads of international organizations and key non-state actors, it is clearly an elitist endeavour.

Only the heads of organizations can become “Champions”, and in the beginning, this even excluded non-state actors. Gender Champions commit to at least two concrete gender-enhancing actions a year and to refrain, wherever possible, from sitting on single-sex panels (whether they are all male or all female). So one has to wonder about the criteria for selecting projects for special start-up funding.

Gender – Looking to the 2020 Forum 25 Years after Beijing

As summits go, the big one for gender was 24 years ago in Beijing. This was the be-all and end-all for laying out a global platform on gender – the fourth of a series of world conferences on women that started with the first world conference in 1975 in Mexico (followed by Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995). No more world conferences on women were convened after this, but the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action has maintained its credibility as a comprehensive statement of women’s rights. More to the point, however it is a declaration and platform for action encompassing equality of rights between men and women. It might be appropriate, after 25 years, to revisit the documents, especially in light of the momentum on LGBTQ rights and of the growing action to address gender-based violence. On the other hand, the reproductive health issue is among those that risk moving backwards if the documents were to be renegotiated. In any case, it has been decided that this 2020 event will not be a summit as such. Instead, it is being called a “forum”, that is to say, the “Generation Equality Forum”.

The Co-chairs of this 2020 forum, Marlene Schiappa (the French Secretary for Equality in the Macron/Philippe government) and Martha Delgado (the Mexican Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights) described the plans for this two-pronged event, first in Mexico City on 7 to 8 May 2020 and then in Paris on 7 to 10 July 2020. They were joined by others on a panel highlighting where the forum should recognize that progress has been made since 1995 and where action is still needed – or more accurately where it has emerged to be needed since 1995.

Yes, progress has been made, especially in the business world. Education at the lower levels has improved, too. But there are continuing challenges for gender parity in science and more strikingly, in the digital world. The focus on helping more women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), then, is an important concern. Another point raised by panellists was the absence of gender-specific data to highlight the differential impact on men and women of credit practices or artificial intelligence or natural catastrophes, just to name a few rather varied areas.  As with most forums like this one that are organized under the auspices of the UN, there is a lot of bureaucracy and accommodation of geographic and ideological diversity in the planning groups, but it is clear that the French are very much involved in making this forum a success.

Gender – The Future Is Female – at the Country Level

With the high-powered panels on International Gender Champions and the Generation Equality Forum dominating the gender spotlight, one might wonder whether there was anything at all focused on gender-oriented practicalities. On this score, I was actually pleasantly surprised by a panel entitled “The Future Is Female”. The overall theme here, refreshingly, was on the importance of a country-level focus – ways to remove discriminatory barriers on policy and practice at the country level. The panellists had a lively debate on whether it was better to concentrate on changing the mind-set of men or of incentivizing women to move into non-traditional sectors or to combine family with work outside the home. The EU representative announced a Gender Action Plan that is targeting all development aid to have a gender-sensitive focus. Specific projects were described in traditional sectors like agriculture and garments, but also in tackling the digital imbalance. The World Bank, for example, has a programme called “Digital to Equal”, while another interesting project featured an emphasis on trans-gender sports – i.e. sports programmes that integrate men and women rather than keeping them separate.

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