30 September 2005. The last preparatory conference, less than 60 days before the Tunis summit, ended tonight at 21:00 without an agreement. The open questions will have to be dealt with in the time before Tunis - and basically without civil society participation.
Internet Governance: from no text to ten proposals
The Internet Governance subcommittee A, chaired by the focused Pakistani Masood Khan, managed to come from a blank sheet of paper to agreed text on most aspects within a week. The only paragraphs still in brackets in the first four parts are related to cybercrime and cybersecurity, where an old battle between the United States and Russia is blocking progress. This will probably be resolved quickly before the summit, with reference to agreed language from the Geneva Declaration. Another smaller fight is taking place around the issue of interconnection costs, where the Bangladesh government wants negotiations on better conditions not only for least developed countries.
Still very open, though, is the part five, where concrete future steps on Internet Governance reform are to be defined. The EU, Canada and Civil Society had opened the final debate two days ago, and a number of other governments joined into the chorus. The most promising proposal at the moment is the one from Argentina, which also gained considerable support from the United States and the African Group. At the end of the very last session today, chairman Khan told the delegates that he had produced a paper as "food for thought" for the follow-up part of Internet governance. It was numbered according to the other chapters, and it looked like done text. The first reactions were quite supportive, but then Japan, the United States and the European Union asked to not take it as the basis for further negotiations. In the end, the subcommittee decided to treat Khan's paper the same way as some of the more important governmental contributions. So, the reconvening PrepCom right before the summit has to deal with ten papers instead of one:
- The Chairman's "food for thought paper"
- African Group
- European Union
- Russia / Aserbaidjan / Belarus / Moldowa
- Saudi-Arabia (Arab Group)
You can place your bets on how long it will take to decide about which one to take as the reference document for the negotiations. The American press is already faming the end-game as a battle between the EU and the US - like Kyoto, the Iraq war and other major conflicts, but is neglecting the much more important push from the South towards the internationalization of Internet governance. And China has not yet put its cards on the table.
Follow-Up unclear, possible outcome: ECOSOC commission
In subcommittee B, which had to deal with all other issues, progress was much slower. The "Political Chapeau" of the Tunis summit documents was constantly in danger of re-opening debates that the summit had resolved in the first phase. Accordingly, it looks like a random selection of bracketed paragraphs, and there is no real solution in sight that would bring it to a quick closure.
The discussion on financial mechanisms, which had started around the African proposal of a Digital Solidarity Fund for financing the infrastructure rollout in developing countries, was mostly resolved half a year ago, when the governments found a compromise on how to mention this. But the whole chapter on finance has been in a deadlock since then, because the Brazilian and the US government are still fighting about one paragraph. This is a core issue, though, and it has been ignored by most of its key activists. The Brazilians want to refer to the use of Free and Open Source Software for development, while the US - under pressure from software giants like Microsoft - are still resisting this approach.
The chapter on implementation of the Geneva and Tunis outcomes looks a bit better, but still with many parts unresolved. What is apparently lacking here is a clear commitment to real implementation measures. Paragraph 6bis, for example, where "international cooperation among all stakeholders" is described as "vital in implementation", some governments are still resisting the proposal by the Dominican Republic and some other Latin-American countries to also install regular impact assessments of this cooperation. The same is true for paragraph 9 on the development of international performance evaluation and benchmarking indicators to evaluate the real-world impact of this whole diplomatic exercise. Other areas, like paragraph 7u that would call for action to better include women and girls in the ICT field, are also still contested.
Follow-Up unclear: Four wasted years?
The major problem, though, is the disagreement on the structural level of the follow-up and implementation mechanisms. This is key to the whole success of the summit process, because only if it establishes a clearly defined structure for the time after the Tunis summit in November, it can have an impact on the real world. For the national and regional level, the language is more or less agreed (well, if you keep in mind the old diplomatic wisdom "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", you might be concerned). But paragraph 20 of the implementation chapter that deals with the follow-up on the international level is still a whole page of brackets. It is clear now that the latest developments in the UN reform discussion had an impact here, and that the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will be the centre of follow-up on the international level. But the key question is: How exactly should it be done? Will the ITU get the key role it wanted in the first place? Will it have to coordinate with other UN agencies like UNDP and UNESCO? What will be role of the different stakeholders, including civil society and the business sector, in this structure? Will there be any lessons learned from the "could have been" multi-stakeholder WSIS process, or will it be the traditional UN framework? All these questions have not really been addressed yet, and it is far from clear how they can be seriously answered in the next few weeks.
Civil society's Working Group on Implementation and Follow-Up has tried hard to push the governments to take this into account. In a statement made today in subcommittee B, the working group made clear that the decision - or no-decision - about follow-up and implementation
"will define the real credibility of the entire work done by the Governments over the last five years. The outcomes from the Tunis summit on this issue will be the benchmark upon which the real political will of the Governments to implement decisions and to bridge the digital divide is measured."
Because there is no defined body yet in the UN system that deals with the full range of information society issues, many participants felt that the summit would in the end only lead to the existing agencies doing their old job within their restricted mandate. Because any follow-up mechanism will be set up around ECOSOC, Chile yesterday started floating around the idea of re-activating and re-framing the ECOSOC Commission on Science and Technology for Development, which had been mostly inactive in the last years.
Civil society groups also picked up on this idea. Their statement concluded that
"there is a need for a «Commission for the Information Society» at the global level. Such a Commission must be set up by the Tunis summit. It must provide for full and effective participation of all stakeholders including Civil Society."
The mandate of this commission, according to civil society, should include "multi-stakeholder spaces for policy deliberations on information society issues", "taking up new information society issues as they emerge", and "review on an ongoing basis the progress, or lack thereof, in the achievement of the WSIS objectives". It should build upon precedents like the Commission on Sustainable Development and take into account the lessons learned in multi-stakeholderism during the WSIS process, like the Working Group on Internet Governance and others.
It seems like this idea is resonating among the governments - at least the ones committed to make this summit a success. What is not clear yet is the relationship this new (or reformed) commission would have with the proposed (and more or less agreed) Internet Governance Forum and the successor of the UN ICT Task Force- the "Global Alliance". As Bill Drake from the Internet Governance Caucus stated: "It's a fair bet that governments are not going to agree to launch three new bodies, so some set of proponents is going to be disappointed." This will have to be discussed between now and Tunis. The EU is moving towards the recognition of the need for an international - or cruss-cutting coordination - but does not want to take any decision in the Tunis summit about what and how this structure would be. Many prefer to give a mandate to Kofi Annan to make a proposal about this implementation mechanism or method until July 2006. This commission idea is basically the only chance left for any real structure that would ensure a post-Tunis process at the international level. Civil society again has taken the lead here, but it is far from clear if the governments - unwilling to give away any piece of their sovereignty - can agree to this.
Civil Society locked out again
There is no money to hold another PrepCom meeting in October, and everybody was expecting another last-minute session in Tunis. The closing plenary of the PrepCom decided to establish an "open-ended negotiation group" chaired by PrepCom president Janis Karklins, but only with governmental participation. It will meet two times in October to discuss the open issues of the Political Chapeau, Financing, Implementation and Follow-Up. Internet governance will be dealt with at the re-convened PrepCom right before the summit. In the afternoon, though, we could hear that the Tunisian government is only willing to host "drafting groups" before the summit, not a full-fledged PrepCom. This would again lock out any observers, including civil society. The overall understanding seems to be that Internet governance has to be treated in a different way than the other issues. If it will really be more open is far from clear, and the fact that the governments apparently have not learned a thing from the Internet governance process they could use for other information-society related issues is more than concerning.
Some civil society speakers who did not get a chance to make their interventions in the subcommittees during the day were able to speak on this during the closing plenary of the PrepCom. Avri Doria from the Internet Governance Caucus asked how civil society's expertise could be included in the further discussions on this issue. The decision taken by the PrepCom would only allow governmental contributions to be included in the drafting package to be prepared before the next meeting. Emmanuel Njenga from APC made clear that "the legitimacy of the whole summit is at risk" if the exclusion of observers goes on like this. The statement of protest issued by civil society two days ago "did not change much". Bertrand de La Chapelle from the Working Group on Implementation and Follow-Up in a great last statement made clear what the real problems are: Governments have not agreed on Internet Governance, and they have not agreed on follow-up to the summit. In fact, they have avoided seriously discussing these core issues until the last day of the preparatory process for the summit. The major point the governments do not understand yet, according to him, is the notion of "shared responsibility". They are still afraid of losing part of their legitimacy and control if they give civil society too much say, de La Chapelle said. According to him, instead of "competing legitimacy", they should think of "complementary legitimacy".
Two years ago, before the first WSIS summit, civil society decided to leave the official process because it was basically going nowhere. This time it is a bit different. Civil society is being excluded again, but the real substantive issues are still open. So there is still a minor chance that the NGOs' ideas and experience can be used - and are seen by the governments as needed - for securing the success of the summit. But the way the process towards the summit is set up now, one has to be extremely optimistic to really believe this. Civil Society again will have to prepare its independent summit statement - and maybe commit itself to a more bottom-up, self-organized follow-up process that would invite other stakeholders, including governments.
Western Group and EU challenge Tunisia
Canada, speaking also on behalf of the European Union, the United States, Norway and a number of East European Countries, at the beginning of the closing plenary made a strong statement and criticised the human rights situation in Tunisia. It explicitly referred to the right to freedom of expression and said it expects Tunisia "to eliminate all grounds for concern that had been raised after recent incidents" in Tunisia, but also during the PrepCom. The Western Group demanded from Tunisia to guarantee the "unhindered participation of all NGOs and their members". This would be the "only way to make sure that this will be a summit in Tunisia, not on Tunisia".