Geneva, 28.2.2003. After almost two weeks of negotiations, the second PrepCom came to a close on Friday 28 February. The outcomes fall short of the declared objectives: There will be no final draft for the WSIS declaration and the action plan. Instead, two working papers were presented, which will serve as a basis for a draft to be developed by the South African delegation until 21 March. One of the central issues of the final plenary session, once more, was participation of non-state actors in the summit process. A far-reaching proposal by the declaration working group was severely weakened shortly before the end of the conference. Nevertheless, civil society statements will be allowed as an official input for negotiations.
As no final draft could be finalised at PrepCom2, the delegates of the Intergovernmental Bureau were mandated to discuss and further develop the draft to be compiled by the Chairperson of the declaration working group Lyndall Shope-Mafole from South Africa. An "Intersessional Meeting" of government delegates and observers from civil society and private sector will take place in July to continue work on the draft declaration and plan of action. With some delay to the original plans, a consensus regarding the documents should finally be achieved at the third PrepCom in September.
Participation of non-state actors
Issues around the participation of non-state actors continued appearing at the Geneva PrepCom up until the very last day, and once more overshadowed the debates on content and themes of the declaration and the action plan. Renewed discussions were triggered by a proposal by the declaration working group, chaired by Ms. Shope-Mafole, to integrate statements by the "observer" group of civil society and private sector directly in the working papers. Government delegations from Canada, Australia, several African countries and the EU enthusiastically supported this proposal. However, serious objections against the increased influence by non-state actors, which the proposal would imply, came from Pakistan and China.
Several Latin American delegations, such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico, objected as well and proposed to include the statements of the observers in a separate document instead of including them directly into the government paper. Members of the Brazilian delegation explained privately that the inclusion of civil society statements would not be a problem for them, but the inclusion of private sector statements would. Mexico wanted its intervention be understood as a compromise attempt.
Backlash against progressive approaches
However the objections of these countries helped Pakistan and China to block a decision along the lines of the proposal of the working group. Attempts by several countries to reach a compromise included a proposal by the South African delegation to include the statements of the observers as South African input. However the Chairman of Subcommittee 2 Yasuaki Nogawa from Japan was not able to facilitate consensus among the delegates.
In an evening session of the Intergovernmental Bureau, the proposal of the working group was turned upside down: It was decided to not only put the observer statements into a separate document, but also to have them filtered by Ms Shope-Mafole, and to continue the process "on the understanding that the proposals by governments would constitute the basis of negotiations". Compared to the original proposal, this represented a serious step back towards restricting non-state actor participation. Nevertheless, the fact remains that for the first time statements by non-state actors will have an official status in the negotiations.
Fundamental questions of international cooperation
The debate on the inclusion of observer statements also served as a front discussion for the unspoken but far wider question of who would actually negotiate on content and themes and whether the observers would be part of this. This points to some of the fundamental challenges which the UN system is facing. While many government delegations want to keep nation-states as the exclusive participants of UN negotiations, others regard the inclusion of non-state actors less as a danger and rather as a chance or even a necessity. After all, this would involve the opportunity to, on the one hand, draw on the intense knowledge and experience of both civil society and private sector actors and, on the other hand, react to the crisis of legitimacy of nation-states. When, for example, the Pakistan delegation referred to UN regulations on the exclusive legitimacy of governments to participate in negotiations, others such as PrepCom President Samassekou emphasised the fundamental changes taking place in the international system, to which governments would have to react. Many speakers stressed that the issue on participation in fact deals with fundamental questions of international cooperation. This debate will not be finished during the WSIS process, but it became clear that neglecting such questions will be increasingly impossible.