Drafting Process for Tunis Summit Declaration is Starting
  "Group of Friends of the Chair" met today, civil society mostly locked out
  21 October 2004. In order to avoid another long and exhausting political battle, the governmental delegates at PrepCom I in June had agreed to form a "Group of the Friends of the Chair" that will draft the summit declaration for WSIS 2005. Today, the group met for the first time in Geneva. All stakeholders are invited to submit written input to wsis@itu.int for the draft summit declaration by 2 November 2004. Civil society participation is significantly lower than in the PrepCom drafting process in the first phase of WSIS.

Structure of the drafting group

At the intergovernmental bureau meeting on 30 September, the governments had agreed that the "Group of the Friends of the Chair" (GFC) will be composed of 6 governments per UN region plus regional coordinators. The two host countries (Switzerland and Tunisia) and the Secretary General of the ITU will be ex officio members. Other governments will be admitted as observers at all meetings.

Already there, the discussion focused on the participation of the observers, including civil society organizations. Today, the usual suspects like Egypt, Pakistan and other less democratic governments again stressed the need for discussion and negotiations only among governments. Others, like the Dutch EU presidency, insisted on having at least meaningful options for civil society organizations to give their "important and valuable input". The chairman of the preparatory committee and of the GFC, ambassador Janis Karklins from Latvia, is also obviously trying to facilitate as much observer participation as possible.

The intergovernmental bureau had already agreed to invite observers to "special sessions" of the GFC. The first meeting of the GFC today was announced as such a "special session", giving civil society the opportunity to voice their views of the drafting process.

Structure of WSIS 2005 summit declaration, input sought from stakeholders

The "non-paper" provided by chairman Karklins for today's meeting already outlines the final summit declaration document.

It will probably start with a "political chapeau" that will state "the determination of member states and other stakeholders in the WSIS process" for implementation of the political goals agreed at the first part of WSIS. Realistically, it will be mostly backslapping with no references to the still existing conflicts (think WIPO and WTO for a second) or underlying political and economic questions.

Following will be an operational part with four chapters: "Solutions" / implementation, financial mechanisms, Internet governance, and the way ahead from Tunis. The parts on finance and Internet governance will consider the outcomes and reports of the respective working groups set up by WSIS I.

All stakeholders, including civil society, are asked to submit written input for the draft summit declaration until 2 November to wsis@itu.int. Chairman Karklins will then draft a first version for the next (closed) meeting of the GFC in mid-November.

Civil Society participation: One step forward, two steps back

This development is somewhat better than the usual diplomatic practice of groups of the friends of the chair, which are normally governmental-only at all meetings. At the meeting of the intergovernmental bureau with the civil society bureau during PrepCom I in June, chairman Karklins had even said that he could envisage having civil society and private sector representatives as normal members in the group of friends of the President. But some governments still want to keep observers out of the process, so this far-reaching proposal did not get through.

So, compared to the much more open and inclusive drafting process in the first phase of WSIS, it means a huge step back.

The next two meetings of the GFC in November and December are almost completely governments-only (except for one afternoon). This is where the important deals will be made and the whole direction and message for the WSIS 2005 declaration will be structured and mostly agreed upon. The observers will only be allowed to participate on the first day of the GFC meeting in January.

This is not a level of inclusiveness that many civil society members had envisaged, and that has already been and will be practiced in the WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). Even the much less transparently formed WSIS Task Force on Financial Mechanisms (TFFM) has civil society delegates as full members.

Some hopes had been raised in earlier discussions around the GFC mechanism, because the draft summit declaration would also incorporate the results of various "WSIS-related" meetings. Here, a broad understanding of "WSIS-related" could have helped to channel the outcomes of civil society meetings into the draft declaration. But as the intergovernmental bureau has also agreed in its 30 September meeting, civil society can not organize WSIS thematic or regional events. Only events sponsored by a UN agency or a government can qualify for being an official side event. So don't put the WSIS logo on your event flyers if you are an NGO. And don't hope its outcomes will end up in the official WSIS process unless you have very receptive government representatives as your guests.

Civil Society: Stay in or get out?

These developments are even more disappointing if you consider the overall discussion on stronger involvement of civil society in UN policy processes. An important document in this field - the Cardoso Report from June 2004 - suggests even more substantial participation than during the first phase of WSIS.

By the way: It is really ironic that the "non-paper" prepared by chairman Karklins for today's GFC meeting mentions the "determination of member states and other stakeholders in the WSIS process" when at the same time the "other stakeholders" do not really have a voice in the drafting of the summit outcomes.

Civil society clearly will have to discuss the consequences from this. At PrepCom I, the civil society plenary has officially stated among its conditions for further participation in the official WSIS process after Geneva

"We insist that we don't fall back behind the highest levels of inclusiveness and participation from the first phase. Instead, we even want to improve them. (.)Whatever Political Declaration is to be adopted in Tunis, appropriate mechanisms have to guarantee that civil society is truly involved in any drafting process and supported in commenting and proposing amendments in a timely manner."

The civil society plenary also had made clear in the same declaration that "we are not willing to play an alibi role or lend our legitimacy to a process that excludes us from true meaningful participation."

The debate on how to deal with this situation now has to be held across civil society.

It seems clear that the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) is a space where meaningful participation of civil society is assured. It is less clear if this really is the case for the Task Force on Financial Mechanisms (TFFM), where the drafting of the final report had already started before the TFFM has been set up, civil society participation is much smaller than in the WGIG, and the selection process for civil society members completely lacked transparency and representativeness.

If there is any chance to make the Group of the Friends of the Chair (GFC) an inclusive space for drafting the final summit declaration is far from sure. At the moment, it seems more discouraging. So maybe civil society should again start working on its own WSIS summit declaration for 2005.

Official Meeting Documents:
Invitation letter
Annex 1: "Group of Friends of the Chair" 
Annex 2: "Chair's note to the members of the GFC" 
Annex 3: "Chair's non-paper to stimulate discussion in the GFC on October 22"

Civil Society Documents:
Report from the meeting by Civil Society Bureau members
rtf pdf
Intervention by Wolfgang Kleinwächter 
rtf pdf
Intervention by Renata Bloem



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