Berlin, 27 October 2003. The president of the preparatory committee (PrepCom) for the summit, Adama Samassekou, has produced a new attempt to reconcile conflicting positions among the governments. He has produced what is officially called a "non-paper" based on the informal negotiations and talks going on in Geneva since the third PrepCom meeting (PrepCom3) ended in September without final results.
The governments had met in Geneva on 20 October and discussed the way to proceed. This led to several working groups, which presented their outcomes to Samassekou some days ago. The "non-paper" reflects the status of these informal talks, which will be continued on 30 and 31 October. From there, another non-paper will probably be produced, which will probably serve as a basis for the formal negotiations at PrepCom3A from 10 to 14 November.
The conflicts discussed so far are
- The role of media as a stakeholder;
- The references to the Universal Decalaration of Human Rights;
- The question of Internet governance, which has been dealt with in an ad hoc group led by Italy on behalf of the EU. Here, the consensus might become to agree on not having a consensus and needing to discuss this issue until the Tunis phase of the summit in 2005;
- Cultural identity and diversity, which has been dealt with in an ad hoc group led by Egypt.
The other remaining conflicts seem to have not been discussed further. Especially the parts of the draft declaration that came out of the working groups at the September meeting (PrepCom3) have not been touched, it seems.
Parallel to this process, there are also facilitation meetings taking place in Geneva, chaired by the former president of the Swiss Confederation, M. Adolf Ogi. If the end of October meeting will not suffice, there are also still plans for a high-level meeting on 8 and 9 December, right before the summit. This is seen as very risky by the organizing ITU and many other governments, as the side events will have started by then, and especially the Swiss host government will be too busy to help in any negotiations still needed.
Mixed views on future negotiations
The prognoses fort he success of the preparatory process of the summit so far are still very mixed. From what could be heard, a number of governments are still sceptical, among them the US, Finland, France and Latvia. Russia was reported to have "mixed feelings", while the summit host countries Switzerland and Tunisia tried to show some optimism.
The Brazilian government had an interesting position: It wants to keep two thirds of the issues open until the summit in order to attract heads of states. Generally, this summit process was seen as not easy itself.
The multi-stakeholder approach (with governments, civil society and private sector) first of all is seen by the governments as more complex. Here it looks as if the sheer presence of civil society groups is seen as difficult, though we can hardly understand how not listening to us can slow down negotiations. The numerous inputs from civil society still have not made their way into the latest draft in a substantive manner. Blaming the slow and difficult progress of the summit preparations on the multi-stakeholder approach therefore seems like scapegoating.
The other problem identified was the unusual task of the summit. It is not to solve concrete, identifyable conflicts between governments, but to develop a vision fort he information society. As this should be a new kind of society and therefore requires some phantasy and visionary thoughts, normal diplomats obviously have a hard time to deal with it, because they are not trained to think this way.
New civil society input with any impact?
The meetings in Geneva were classical government negotiaons or facilitations meetings. They happened behind closed doors and obviously with a smaller number of participants than at the formal conferences of the prepcratory committee. Civil society was not invited to these meetings and had no right to speak or submit statements. These informal meetings therefore are a clear deviation from the official inclusive approach.
After the non-paper had been released, PrepCom president Adama Samassekou asked the content and themes coordination group of civil society for its input and feedback. The related email by the summit secretariat said: "He is open to reformulating key issues that are of major concern for CS but, of course, he doesn't want to completely re-write this document." These key issues, though, had already been submitted at the end of PrepCom3 (see here). They never found their way into the following drafts, though.
Moreover, civil society now only has two days to comment, because the Smassekou paper with the request for feedback was submitted to civil society on 27 October, though the paper itself had alsready been finished by 24 October.
You can only guess how these mechanisms should lead to an inclusive approach and in the end to a summit declaration that can be supported by all stakeholders. Civil society groups therefore have already started work on their alternative summit declaration.