2 May 2005. The European Union is listening more closely to civil society organizations than it used to. The EU's "High Level Group on Internet Governance" will hold an open consultation with civil society on 24th May, and a new draft report from the European Parliament is recommending "to strengthen the involvement of European civil society in the build-up of the Tunis summit."
The European Civil Society Caucus had two official meetings with the EU presidency and Commission during PrepCom2, and also got many contacts through a work exchange the interim caucus focal point, Christine Wenzel, did in Brussels recently. Also, the emergence of a Europe-wide network of NGOs in the information society field like European Digital Rights (EDRi) helped to give civil society groups a better standing towards the official EU institutions. Two upcoming events make this clear.
The EU's "High Level Group on Internet Governance" (HLIG) has invited European Civil Society Groups to a meeting with them on 24 May to discuss Internet Governance issues in the WSIS context. The HLIG is chaired by the Commission and comprised of delegations of all member states. The European Union recently sent a strong signal in favour of an internationalization of core internet resources, in a move back to where it already had been before ICANN was founded, and after some years of seemingly identical position as the U.S. government.
On the initiative of the Danish delegation, the EU now seems to be interested in civil society's views on this. This is following another meeting between delegates from the WSIS European Caucus and the EU's working group on the United Nations (CONUN) that took place on 8 March. The HLIG decided to consult with European civil society on the morning of the day the "CENTR Open Day" - an event of the Council of European National TLD Registries - takes place in the afternoon.
The European Parliament's rapporteur on the WSIS, Catherine Trautmann, has also released her draft report and parliament resolution. It is quite balanced, considering the fact that it was written in the EP's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. But from what we heard, all amendments from the Culture Committee have been accepted, except the one on Human Rights in China, an independent NGO that was blocked from accrediting to the WSIS. The report generally does not mention human rights in specific countries, which means that also the situation in the host country Tunisia is not included.
But there is a general commitment to "strengthen involvement of European civil society in the build-up towards the Tunis summit". The explanatory report also says: "The EU must play a full role in the debate on new participatory citizenship in a multipolar world". The European Caucus' liaison person to the European Parliament in Strasburg, Jean-Louis Fullsack from CSD-PTT, will also meet with Catherine Trautmann next Friday to discuss the report and draft resolution with her.
All these developments seem like very small steps, and indeed they are. But compared to the first phase of WSIS, it is a huge step forward. The first official meeting ever between EU officials and WSIS civil society took place during PrepCom3 in September 2003 (on the initiative of the German government), and it only lasted five minutes. Now, specialized official groups in Brussels take half a day of their time between PrepComs to listen to civil society's views, concerns and suggestions. The European Caucus and other groups will certainly try to build on this and develop a more regular and stable consultation structure.