Civil Society Participation in WSIS Phase Two
  Governments hesitating, NGOs demanding progress
  10 June 2004. At a meeting with their government this week, the German WSIS coordination group got some new information on the further process of civil society inclusion in the WSIS process. There will be a round of "informal" consultations among the governments next week in Geneva, in order to prepare for the discussions at PrepCom1 of the WSIS II phase in Tunisia a week later. These consultations will take place behind closed doors on the 14th and 17th of June. On other levels like the EU, the summit process still also needs a lot of improvement in terms of openness and inclusiveness.

Informal and closed Pre-PrepCom in Geneva next week

The consultations in Geneva will be without involvement of any observers, be they NGOs, the private sector, or international organizations. This is a surprise because three weeks ago, the general mood -according to German officials- had been in favour of openness. This week, though, a number of governments demanded to have closed meetings. The compromise now will be to have a meeting between the intergovernmental bureau, the civil society bureau, and the private sector's representatives of the International Chamber of Commerce's Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI) on the 15th or 16th. As Wolfgang Kleinwächter, a German member of the civil society bureau, commented, the bureaus had only met three times until now. This should become more institutionalized, at least before and during every PrepCom or important WSIS-related meeting.

PrepComs: Back to normal observer mode - Whatever that is

During the official PrepComs, the rules of participation will be the same as during WSIS phase one, the German officials said. The civil society groups and the other observers will have a speaking slot of 15 minutes each at the beginning of the sessions in the morning. This also was a bit of a surprise, as the speaking slots for the observers at PrepCom3 had been divided into smaller parts and set directly at the beginning of each new thematic bloc. But if you remember how the observers were invited and then kicked out of the thematic working groups during PrepCom3A or even completely locked out at PrepCom3B right before the summit, you get a sense of the fights that again are needed to at least ensure a meaningful participation.

This all is even more frustrating, as the recent UN ICT Task Force and ITU conferences around the issue of Internet Governance in New York City and Geneva had been much more open and inclusive, so that people - no matter if from governments, the UN organizations or the observers - actually listened to and debated with each other. There had been high hopes that this model would influence the rules of procedure for the official summit PrepComs themselves. In general, the civil society representatives demanded improvement in terms of participation. WSIS phase one had brought some progress, but there is still a need for going further.

Transparency and Inclusiveness in the EU? Not really.

Apart from this global level, there was significant debate on the lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the European Union. The recently published EU strategy paper had been drafted by the Irish presidency and commented on by the national governments. It was only made available to the observers after it had been submitted to the WSIS secretariat. The civil society representatives at the meeting with the German government complained that this practice was less transparent than the official UN WSIS rules of procedure. The EU on the one hand  has always been asking for more openness and inclusiveness of the WSIS process, but on the other hand it still has to develop this culture for itself.

Olga Drossou from the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation suggested doing a report on the multistakeholder approach and the inclusion of observers in the national delegations within the EU member states. This could work as a "best practice" model for other nations and governments - if there really is a degree of openness adequate to the EU's public statements. The government officials reacted hesitatingly to this suggestion, as to the idea of having a European regional WSIS conference for the second phase. "The EU has had long discussions on its e-strategies and everything, so there is no need to discuss this again", the official reaction was. Again, the civil society representatives sensed some arrogance here. First of all, the EU is still  - even after is recent enlargement round - not equal to the whole continent, so it can't speak for it. And secondly, the discussions about e-Europe have mostly taken place in the nineties, long before any debate on the global implications of this information revolution

They are mainly driven by a neo-liberal model of markets and competition, a model that was at least partly overcome by the WSIS summit declaration that put the human at the center of the information society.



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