Creating and maintaining Free Knowledge in the world's largest encyclopedia is our daily work and should remain the focus of our movement. However, in recent years we have seen different policies threatening what we do online. Additionally, SOPA and PIPA have been recognised as a threat by the WMF and were subsequently opposed. This shows that Wikimedia can raise its voice and have real impact. Also in the EU.
At the same time, there is no need to remain solely reactive. We can have a position on ongoing policy debates in the European Union and should help create a solid foundation for the free sharing of knowledge.
We therefore propose to get our hands dirty and become more involved in EU policy making. This is of course something very different from editing an online encyclopedia. Or is it? It's all about gathering and presenting reliably sourced information and advocating legislation that would allow orphan works to be re-used on Wikibooks, protect the freedom to take pictures of monuments and enable citizens to have easier access to their governments' documents.
The EU Policy initiative aims at coordinating mainly the European Wikimedia chapters so they can have a unified and clear position on major legislative and political changes affecting the vision, mission and values of the Wikimedia movement.
The Free Knowledge Advocacy Group EU wants to spare chapters’ resources as far as possible: the core group will monitor the EU processes closely, raise red flags you in case of crucial issues and discuss possible actions if necessary.
A call for participation was sent out in February asking interested wikimedians to meet for a weekend in Brussels to constitute an EU Policy Advocacy group. 12 interested participants agreed on meeting on the 6th and 7th April in Brussels.
The question of lobbying for free knowledge is far from being new in the Wikimedia movement. During the Wikimania 2009 in Buenos Aires, a group of activists suggested some core issues which should be monitored on a regular basis. During the Wikimania 2011 in Haifa and the Wikimania 2012 in Washington D.C. Lodewijk Gelauff from WMNL presented a variety of Chapters’ projects which indicated clearly that there is a constant level of advocacy work.
So there is an underlying consensus that the legislative framework of the EU really matters to the movement. And it’s quite obvious that the Chapters have to professionalise and coordinate their actions in order to maximize the impact.
To build and create the infrastructure necessary to monitor EU policy proceedings and initiatives, inform the participant chapters and community in an understandable way, stage discussions about what is desirable or dangerous and take action, mainly by making ourselves heard. It would be proficient to also reach out to like-minded projects and communities.
The European Union is a common market, information sphere and living space for the citizens of its 28 member states. Most of the issues regarding this shared space are co-regulated by the members and the EU institutions. Some are exclusive competence of the EU. Such an exclusive competence is the internal market under which the copyright regulations fall.
When the EU announced in late 2012 that they are launching a consultation process that is to lead to a new copyright directive it became obvious, that while industry and other stakeholders are perfectly organised and on location while NGOs and communities standing for an open internet, sharing and free access to education were not only in the minority but in most cases absent.
If we want blacking out Wikipedia to remain an exception rather than the rule (as called for by Jimmy Wales at the last Wikimania) we need to be at the table when policy makers in the EU request ideas, comments and positions. As Larry Lessig preaches we need a new balance. The only way to achieve this is to make sure user-generated and crowd-funded projects are at par when decisions are made.
The EU is a complex organism made up of its 28 member states, a parliament, a commission and a council. All these bodies and their agencies and directorates work in a extremely decentralised manner and produce a huge mass of news, projects and proposals on a daily basis. The goal would be to have a system to monitor, highlight and foresee the goings-on. To filter and share the relevant out of the mass of EU related information.
No single chapter, much less a single person could ever effectively keep and eye on all this, let alone understand and explain it in an as-if-it-was-a-Wikipedia-article way. The aim of this projects naturally includes the creation of a system to inform the chapters and the community. With background knowledge and in a time-saving manner.
The Wikimedia organisation and community are even more decentralised than the EU itself and its consensus-finding procedures are sometimes more tedious than the infamous EU legislation process. It will be of utmost importance to initiate and stage discussions early on so a coherent, convincing, conclusive and consensual position can reached. Also, it would make our position much stronger if we can speak in a unified voice, rather than having every chapter speak for itself.
If we want to be taken seriously we must give the institutions and public officials a face, a name and a direct way they can contact us.
Similar to complaints by US presidents when it comes to European politics, the WMF often has a hard time understanding who is doing what in the policy area and therefore tends be weary about the efforts. Providing ONE phone number and somebody who is "in charge" of EU policy will clearly relieve some of the tension.
There are a number of like-minded communities that would love to cooperate and partner with us - Creative Commons, the Open Knowledge Foundation, La Qadrature du Net and even organisations like EDRI are just some examples. We could in turn also assist other communities that do not have an organisation set up.
It would at the same time be possible to imagine a "rainbow" coalition between Wikimedia and such groups and organisations, whether permanent or case-specific.
The "Wikimedia...?! Ah, how's Assange?" cliché is unfortunately very real and present even amongst Brussels-based politicians, bureaucrats and analysts. Giving ourselves a face and letting people know what we are doing and how sexy and likeable we are is going to help us not only in policy matters but in working towards our vision. The model of our local presence could vary according to the needs and financial resources:
building up an own office structure (expensive and maybe too soon)
becoming a member of a broader "umbrella" association (additionaly)
In line with Wikimedia’s commitment to "political neutrality" except regarding “the most serious things that directly impact our work.”, the consensuses and opinions agreed upon by the chapters and the community in the discussion process will have to be penned down, published, presented and pushed to all relevant parties and at all relevant positions. These stances will have to be defended in discussions and communicated to the media. All of this also has to happen within the very strict deadlines required by the legislative process. Standard examples of interest representation techniques include:
It is possible to use the created infrastructure and network to work on further, not directly policy oriented projects:
The EU programmes are one of the largest culture funds in Europe, additionally the EU is cooperating in a large number of education and culture projects each year. It is highly advisable too seek and facilitate Wiki projects with and aiming at the EU and its agencies.
PR. Letting people know who we are, what we are doing and what we are dreaming of.
Facilitate coordination between smaller chapters that don't have their own "foreign relations" infrastructure. Take part and help out in pan-European projects. With legal expertise, experience and just plain, hard work.
The EU is the biggest donor of financial aid worldwide. With Wikimedia focusing many of their new projects on developing countries the potential synergies are plentiful.