CONSULTATIONS BETWEEN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND CIVIL SOCIETY
  Round-table could be starting-point for further cooperation
 
 
  Berlin, 4 May 2003. Participants of the first multi-stakeholder round-table in Germany were mostly satisfied with the exchange of ideas for which the federal government had invited business and civil society delegates. Although no concrete decisions were made, the meeting was seen as as first step towards a common German coordination for the WSIS. Themes that were discussed included procedural questions and content aspects. Participants came mostly from several different civil society organisations, with representatives from several government departments, such as economy, finance, and development, and from the business community.

Civil society representatives demanded that the government works towards opening up the WSIS preparatory conferences for observers. Observers should have an unlimited right to be present at meetings and negotiations and should be allowed to contribute to the debate. The same was demanded for EU meetings on WSIS issues. However, government delegates were very cautious about that. While they generally supported the participation of civil society in WSIS procedures, they were not willing to agree to concrete initiatives beyond present WSIS rules, and were particularly unprepared to open internal EU consultations to observers.

However the government offered to include representatives of the observers into the official government delegation. It is still not clear how many slots will be available for civil society delegates, but the general offer stands.
 
Civil society representatives used the opportunity of the meeting to introduce the second version of the "Charter of Civil Rights for Sustainable Knowledge Societies" as a major outcome of German civil society content debates around the WSIS. The government expressed strong interest in the document. Furthermore, UNESCO delegates pointed to their activities around the WSIS summit. However the subsequent content discussion uncovered several lines of conflict, particularly related to questions of ownership and commodification of knowledge. While the government seeks to remain within the framework of existing models and regulations, and wants to refer debates on revising such regulations to organisations such as WIPO, civil society strongly rejects any premature closure of this debate and demands a new government position which is based on a conception of knowledge as a common heritage of humanity. 

On the initiative of the government, financial aspects were also discussed, particularly the "digital solidarity fund" for bridging the digital divide from the WSIS "list of issues". Civil society representatives criticised the unwillingness of the federal government to commit to financial aid, whereas government delegates pointed to the general problem of the lack of state finances and to different development priorities ("either water pipes or network cables"). Nevertheless the federal government is starting to think about a financial model to help bridging the global digital divide, probably along the lines of compensation models, which have been used elsewhere in the EU. A concrete proposal will be developed and could become a major German contribution for the common EU position at the WSIS.

Civil society representatives working on gender and womens issues noted that this area has so far been underrepresented  in the WSIS efforts of the federal government. While the government suggested to develop a special section of the declaration on these issues, civil society representatives maintained that gender issues affect all areas of the WSIS.

Despite the strong differences on many issues, all sides agreed that the meeting was a successful starting-point for further fruitful exchange. Much more debate will have to take place. Although specific dates for further meetings have not been arranged yet, and although government delegates had reservations about committing to a regular multi-stakeholder coordination process, it is very likely that there will be another round-table in June to prepare the Intersessional Meeting in Paris. A further possible model would be a set of working groups for specific issue areas. 


 
 
 
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