Divisions between government and civil society positions
  Civil society organisations will draft own declaration
  Geneva, 24 September 2003. The civil society plenary this morning agreed to start drafting work on an own declaration, separate from and in addition to the official government declaration. This is the latest move in an increasingly critical view by civil society of summit processes and particularly of summit outcomes, as reflected in widespread frustration with the latest versions of the Declaration of Principles. Governments, the WSIS secretariat, and the PrepCom president have responded with new offers for increased participation.
  "Break-down of multi-stakeholder process"
  The idea of a civil society declaration, offering distinct alternatives to the official declaration, has been discussed for quite a while and has represented a common procedure in other UN summits. However it has gained a much more prominent role this week due to widespread dissatisfaction in civil society with recent developments in the WSIS process. The latest version of the Declaration of Principles has been criticised for its technocratic and top-down approach relying predominantly on technology and the market, and for its disregard of many issues which are essential for civil society. Many of the points brought into the debate by civil society organisations have been removed again from the latest documents (see also the article "Vision impossible: Civil Society criticises draft declaration" on this website).

During the past few days, civil society participants in the summit process have been talking about an "effective break-down of the multi-stakeholder process" and expressed their concern that "the summit is going off-track and is failing". One representative said: "We now have prove that governments don't care about civil society input", while another one suggested that "now the time for lobbying has passed". Debates on how to react to these developments have included suggestions to link up with alternative events to take place around the December summit, and even to walk out of the process collectively.
  Calls for trust and cooperation
  Governments and the WSIS secretariat have indicated very clearly that they take this change in attitude very serious and that they want to keep civil society on-board for the summit. On Tuesday, 23 September, PrepCom President Adama Samassekou even addressed the civil society morning plenary. He urged civil society organisations to stay involved in the process, calling for all stakeholders to trust each other. While he made an attempt to align himself with civil society positions and presented himself as an ally of civil society, he also noted that announcements regarding an alternative declaration could be seen as "blackmail". Participants of the following Bureau meeting remarked that Samassekou was far less open and forthcoming there.

Samassekou's promise to "open new spaces for participation" was immediately followed by a new proposal from the secretariat "for developing interactions between Governments and Civil society". The proposal includes briefings of civil society representatives with the Chair of sub-committee 2 and the facilitator Mrs. Shope-Mafole, informal issue-based consultations between governmental working groups and the related civil society caucuses, and region-based consultations. The next morning the EU took a step forward on participation by inviting members of civil society for an exchange of ideas.
  Input and impact
  On the short term, last-minute offers for "opening spaces" may have served their purpose. On yesterday's press conference, which followed talks between civil society members and the government bureau, NGO representatives toned down their criticism substantially. However further debates and developments made clear that generally civil society will not be pacified by offers of informal consultations.

For the moment, civil society organisations are continuing to give input into the government negotiations and to thereby attempt to influence the WSIS agenda. So the decision to work on alternatives has not (yet) meant that NGOs halt any participation. However voices are increasingly being raised on whether it makes sense to continue lobbying if governments continue to ignore civil society's voice. The question will be whether civil society participation will any effects on the WSIS agenda -- whether input will finally lead to impact.


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