A history of IGF improvements, part 2

A further sign of the weakening of commitment to a multi-stakeholder process for Internet governance, by governments in particular, came at a December extraordinary meeting of the CSTD, which resolved to establish the Working Group on Improvements to the IGF that ECOSOC had called for as a government-only group. This came as a surprise to many, as apart from apparently diverging from ECOSOC’s directive that the working group be “open and inclusive,” it also departed from earlier indications made during an open meeting held by the CSTD at the Vilnius IGF meeting that the group would be an open, multi-stakeholder taskforce on the model of the WGIG.

It was only after strenuous objection by non-governmental stakeholders, and intense negotiations at the following general meeting of the CSTD, later in December 2010, that its earlier decision was softened to allow 15 non-governmental observers (out of a total of 42) to “interactively participate” in the group’s meetings and “remain fully engaged throughout the process.” In the WGIG, by comparison, non-governmental representatives had taken 21 of its 40 seats, as full and equal members.

But the presence of non-governmental stakeholders in the room was not enough to ensure that the work of the CSTD Working Group was conducted on a full multi-stakeholder basis. Were this to have been the case, the text of the group’s recommendations would have been developed by one or more multi-stakeholder drafting groups, as had been the case with the WGIG. Indeed, this is what civil society stakeholders and developing country governments pressed for at the group’s first meeting in Montreux in February 2011. However this was opposed by the familiar coalition of rich countries, technical community and private sector stakeholders (the same that had been blocking improvements to the IGF within its MAG), who prevailed in moving that the CSTD Secretariat attempt to draft the group’s recommendations instead.

Unfortunately the Secretariat had little material to work with in undertaking this task. The Working Group was poorly managed, without the kind of active facilitation that could have assisted the stakeholders to come to agreement on contentious issues. Consequently much of its first meeting was taken up in procedural disagreements, and much of its second with the tabling of proposals and counter-proposals by members, none of which were comprehensively discussed. As a result, although a text summarising the various proposals was prepared by the Secretariat, it contained no agreed recommendations.

Disagreements centered on three main issues: the addition of a UN budget line to provide stable public funding for the IGF in addition to stakeholders’ voluntary contributions, the establishment of a democratic and transparent process for selection of members of the IGF’s MAG, and, most contentious of all, how the IGF could produce more tangible outcomes, in fulfilment of its mandate in the Tunis Agenda. Although the proposals on each of these issues were detailed, the lines along which disagreement fell were familiarly simple: in general, those most opposed to disturbing the status quo continued to be the developed countries, the technical community and the private sector.

In view of the group’s failure to reach agreement, at its 14th session in May 2011, the CSTD resolved to extend the mandate of its Working Group until the 15th session in May 2012. This resolution was made against the wishes of the United States which would have preferred the group end without having proposed any improvements; however the United States, along with Europe, did at least succeed in stymieing a further proposal from India to include timelines and the election of a chair for the Working Group in the CSTD’s resolution.

Regardless of the failure of the CSTD Working Group, it could still have been possible to fulfil the Secretary-General’s injunction given in May 2010 that improvements to the IGF be discussed at its sixth meeting, if either the IGF’s Secretariat or MAG, or indeed the CSTD, had chosen to schedule a discussion of such improvements at that meeting. But as none of them did so, the only such discussions that took place in Nairobi were those independently arranged by stakeholders. Indeed, at the time of writing (September 2011), no further meeting of the CSTD Working Group at which for it to continue its consideration of improvements to the IGF has yet been scheduled.

This post is excerpted from a forthcoming paper and presentation of the author to be titled Arresting the decline of multi-stakeholderism in Internet governance.