Working groups on conflictive areas, observers become locked out
Geneva, 17 September 2003. Yesterday afternoon, after having discussed the draft summit declaration in plenary for two days, the delegates at PrepCom3 decided to form six working groups to clarify the conflictive areas. The working groups are currently meeting and trying to come up with common language proposals. They work on are the following issues: right to communicate (chaired by Canada), internet security (EU), internet governance (Kenya), enabling environment (Brazil), cultural and linguistic diversity (India), media and freedom of (Switzerland). The topics are more ore less the same as at the Paris intersessional meeting in Paris in July this year. In addition to the working groups established there, the new group on media was proposed by Switzerland. This group has full support of the civil society groups. One of their main fears was the heavy internet and ICT focus of the summit, whereas in their view, the traditional media as well as community media still are very important in the information society. Parallel to these working groups, a closed drafting group is working on incorporating the other opinions and suggestions raised in plenary into the draft declaration.

This structure, though it makes sense in general, raised some concerns among a number of delegations. The working groups are meeting parallel, sometimes four groups at a time. This makes it very hard for small delegations to take part in all negotiations. At the same time, the plenary discussion on the plan of action has already started. For civil society delegates, it is even harder to follow everything, as there are a number of caucus and drafting meetings going on at any given time. But civil society is more and more organizing and distributing the workload. A monitoring group has already been established which is reporting at www.prepcom.net/wsis, and today a structured effort was made in the Europe/North America Caucus to better coordinate the civil society members who are part of their national government delegations.

No money for digital bridges

What is still missing, but will be set up later this week, is a working group on implemenation and finance. The industrialized countries already declared their intention not to give any new money for the proposed action plan. As could be heard from a number of delegates, they even want to delete any reference to funding in the declaration and action plan. This was a huge disappointment for the developing countries and is seen as a clear backdrop for the original WSIS goal to bridge the digital divide. The industrialized countries in turn demand better investment conditions for their corporations so the infrastructures can be built up and improved with private sector money. There is a real possibility that this conflict between North and South can lead to a failure of the whole summit. The working group which will be chaired by Sweden therefore has a huge task in front of it. A way out of this forseeable stalemate could be measures for bridging the digital divied that do not cost money, like bigger exemptions from intellectual property protection in the interest of public policy. Brazil has already made a proposal along these lines.

Observers locked out of working groups

After the observers were able to participate in most of the working groups yesterday, a number of countries like China and Egypt complained that this was against the rules of procedure. They asked for the observers to be locked out of the working groups. This met fierce resistance by the EU, the US and others. At the moment, the governments and the bureau are looking for a compromise, which will likely be a phased approach. The observers will be able to make short statements and then will have to leave the meetings. This is a big disappointment for civil society. The open approach in the working groups at the intersessional conference in Paris had demonstrated how helpful a true and open multistakeholder approach can be. The procedures in force now in at PrepCom 3 are a therefore clear backdrop.

The same frustration was voiced by the German civil society WSIS coordination group. As in Paris, they were able to send a representative into the government delegation. This had been practised in a number of other countries like Canada, Switzerland or Denmark since PrepCom2. But different from the positive experience in Paris, the civil society representative this time is not allowed to take part in the EU meetings. As this is the place where the political decisions are really made, German civil society groups felt disappointed and released an open letter to the German government. This case shows another example of the lack of democracy and transparency in European integration.




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