Geneva, 20 February. On the fourth day of the WSIS PrepCom in Geneva, negotiations on the final document and the plan of action have officially started. After three days of intense discussions in Multi-Stakeholder Roundtables, Subcommittee 2 - the relevant body for drafting those documents - has resumed its work. As a Canadian delegate said, "Today is when the work really begins."
The expression "Subcommittee" may be slightly misleading: As the content debate is the central focus of this PrepCom, a large part of the delegates present are actually participating in the negotiations - several government delegates from each member state, as well as delegates from the business and civil society sector. The Subcommittee will meet every day until the end of the Prepcom on Friday 28 February, in order to achieve the declared objective of finalising a draft declaration. This document will represent the first version of the declaration to be signed by the heads of state during the WSIS in December.
The debate will primarily be based on the content of two documents which have been made available to the delegations: the orientation paper presented by the President of the Prepcom Adama Samassekou, and a summary of the declarations of the regional preparatory conferences which had taken place during the past months. In addition, the outcomes of previous debates within Subcommittee 2 will be considered, as will be the discussions in the Multi-Stakeholder Roundtables during the past days.
Although the WSIS Secretariat and the ITU had preferred the Samassekou paper as a basis for discussion, strong objections to this approach were expressed during the first day of negotiations, particularly by the Latin American and Carribean delegations. They felt that a document based on the outcomes of the regional conferences had more legitimacy to serve as a starting point.
The promised tripartite character of the conference, giving not only government delegates but also civil society and the business sector full participation rights, was once again put into serious doubt today. In the large plenary hall, civil society was given exactly four seats, with most civil society participants having to move onto the visitors gallery or into a different room. The drafting group, which is to implement thematic proposals by the delegations and to pull together the various strands of opinion, will probably not include civil society participants. As feared by many, the inclusive rhetoric of the WSIS organisers does not seem to be followed by concrete steps at the present stage. The crucial parts of negotiations are happening between governments only.
Nevertheless, the various thematic caucuses and working groups of the civil society sector also started their work today. They will work on a number of civil society inputs to the declaration and lobby for their inclusion. The civil society's own Subcommittee on Content and Themes, particularly, will draft a new and inclusive civil society statement and identify issues to be submitted into the government negotiations.