The IGF was not the only institutional reform to the Internet governance regime that was approved at WSIS, though it was the best-formed. Also agreed was the need for “enhanced cooperation in the future, to enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities, in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet,” but without neglecting to “involve all stakeholders in their respective roles” and “be responsive to innovation.” Intentionally, this formulation was capable of differing interpretations, with those supportive of the status quo preferring to think in terms of loose and voluntary cooperative arrangements between existing institutions, whilst those favouring reform looked forward to a new overarching policy development framework that would be more inclusive of hitherto excluded stakeholders.
Although the Tunis Agenda had specified a deadline of 2006 for the commencement of the process towards enhanced cooperation, the UN’s early approach was far from proactive, essentially leaving the process to evolve spontaneously. Nitin Desai, as Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Internet governance issues, undertook a limited and closed set of consultations with incumbent Internet governance institutions that year about their own attitudes towards the process, but his private report to the Secretary-General gathered dust over the following years. In the interim, Desai specified firmly that enhanced cooperation was not a matter to be discussed at the IGF or within its MAG — a curious contention, as the Tunis Agenda suggests (and it has since been widely accepted) that the IGF is an integral component of the enhanced cooperation process.
In 2009 the Secretary-General finally published a report on the progress taken towards enhanced cooperation to that date, based around a 2008 series of follow-up consultations with ten selected organisations. As this narrow set of respondents each enjoyed existing authority in the Internet governance regime, it was unsurprising that the views they reported supported a minimalist interpretation of enhanced cooperation that supported the status quo. At the 2008 IGF meeting in Hyderabad enhanced cooperation finally also made the agenda — shoehorned into the session on critical Internet resources — where most of the panelists now took the view that the IGF and other existing processes were enhanced cooperation, and that no institutional reforms were needed.
While this may have seemed to spell the end of enhanced cooperation as an independent process, it survived as a result of one defining event: that ECOSOC referred the Secretary-General’s report to the CSTD for consideration at its May 2010 meeting. Since a range of civil society representatives and developing country governments had the opportunity to comment on the issue at that meeting, a much broader view of enhanced cooperation was taken there. The CSTD considered that “the Internet governance-related outcomes of the World Summit, namely, the process towards enhanced cooperation and the convening of the Internet Governance Forum, are … two distinct processes and also recognizes that the two processes may be complementary,” and recommended ECOSOC to invite “the Secretary-General to convene open and inclusive consultations involving all Member States and all other stakeholders with a view to assisting the process towards enhanced cooperation.”
In response to ECOSOC’s invitation, which it made by resolution in July, the Secretary-General through the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) held a consultation meeting on enhanced cooperation in New York on 14 December 2010. Mirroring the upset at the early exclusion of non-governmental stakeholders from the CSTD’s Working Group on Improvements to the IGF, a similar attempt was made to sideline these stakeholders at the enhanced cooperation discussions, prompting another joint letter of protest. In contrast to the IGF where the floor is open to all stakeholders on an equal footing, at the enhanced cooperation consultation civil society was permitted to make only a single oral presentation, to be delivered by CONGO, an organisation which had not been active in Internet governance discussions for some years.
Furthermore, as at the CSTD, physical attendance was limited to organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council and other entities accredited to the World Summit on the Information Society, which excluded (amongst others) many non-governmental actors who had actively participated at the IGF. (ECOSOC has relaxed this requirement in a string of resolutions dating from 2007 to 2011, but only in respect of the CSTD’s own meetings.) In the end, DESA relented slightly on the originally stipulated conditions for participation, and a representative of the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus did attend and speak at the meeting.
The results of the December 2010 consultation, such as they were, fed into an updated report of the Secretary-General, issued in May 2011, which concluded rather lamely that “cooperation is already taking place in many respects, although it could be enhanced in some areas … and that existing cooperation mechanisms should be used to the extent that they were helpful.” The report has been transmitted to the General Assembly for consideration at its 66th session in September 2011 in New York. However it is not listed on the official agenda of that meeting, and no resolution relating to it will be made.
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.