A history of enhanced cooperation, part 2

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A history of enhanced cooperation, part 2
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Date: 22/9/2011 1:17 am
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Outside of the official consultations, a number of governments have been promoting a narrow intergovernmental model of enhanced cooperation. At the July 2011 meeting of ECOSOC, the grouping of India, Brasil and South Africa — IBSA — called for an intergovernmental mechanism for enhanced cooperation, separate from but complementary to the IGF. Further detail was presented at a subsequent Seminar on Global Internet Governance in September, at which the governmental members called for a new UN body to “be tasked to develop and establish international public policies with a view to ensuring coordination and coherence in cross-cutting Internet-related global issues,” and to “integrate and oversee the bodies responsible for technical and operational functioning of the Internet.”

Whether and how such a body would take advice from other stakeholders in its policy development processes, and through what new mechanisms if any, is unspecified. Neither is it clear what input such stakeholders will have into the recommendations before they are finalised at the next IBSA summit in October. In any case, IBSA chose not to present the recommendations formally to the IGF (which is presently ill-equipped to consider them anyway), but has instead announced its plans to delivery them directly to the UN General Assembly.

More recently, at the 66th session of the General Assembly, China, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan issued a draft General Assembly resolution on an international code of conduct for information security, that is explicitly open to states alone. Amongst the pledges that a subscribing state would make are to “promote the establishment of a multilateral, transparent and democratic international Internet management system.” These are highly retrograde criteria for such an institution when compared against those specified in the Tunis Agenda, namely, “The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations.”

The position of the developed countries is not so dissimilar, though it is less overt. Whilst the Council of Europe (which is not a body of the EU) issued in 2011 a draft set of ten Internet principles that strongly favoured a balanced model of multi-stakeholder Internet governance, this is at odds with the position of the European Union. It was the EU’s defection from the United States’ line on maintaining private sector management of the Internet that enabled the compromise language “enhanced cooperation” to be introduced into the Tunis Agenda to begin with — and the EU’s original language, referring to a “new model of international cooperation”, had been more explicitly intergovernmental.

Since then, from as early as 2006, the EU has maintained its interpretation of the enhanced cooperation concept, pointedly describing it as a “process of enhanced cooperation between governments.” At Europe’s 2011 regional IGF, EuroDIG, Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission claimed that “the multi-stakeholder model of Internet Governance is needed, just that it needs to be amended to function better and take into account the voice of Governments.” She has subsequently proposed a “Compact for the Internet”, in which “the role which government representing their citizens play” is brought to the fore, with the claim that it is necessary to “ensure that those views aren’t ignored“ in order “that the multistakeholder model doesn’t fall apart.”

The immediate context for Kroes’ concerns (and IBSA’s) is that ICANN has failed, through the role that its Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) plays in its multi-stakeholder processes, to provide what Europe regards as sufficient control over policies for the administration of the Internet domain name system. Reflecting these concerns, the European Commission recently produced a series of discussion papers proposing significant reforms to the domain name system, which if implemented would provide governments with veto power over new top level domains and to the right to reserve words from domain name registries, amongst other radical new powers. The papers were not developed with the benefit of prior public consultation, and only came to public awareness after they were leaked.

But even the United States, which already possesses oversight authority over ICANN, and has traditionally been a strong proponent of a balanced multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance, has begun to ask how “governments collectively, can operate within the paradigm of a multi-stakeholder environment and be satisfied that their interests are being adequately addressed.” This illustrates that whilst developed countries pay lip service to the multi-stakeholder model of policy development and make much of their opposition to greater intergovernmental control over the Internet when proposed by developing countries, this has more to do with the fact that they (and the United States in particular) already possess substantial power over Internet policy development, which the developing countries lack.

In reality, there is little to distinguish governments from either side of the economic divide in their desire either to gain or to maintain power over Internet policy development. Perhaps all that has changed since the turn of the decade is that as calls for a balanced multi-stakeholder policy development model of enhanced cooperation have continued to resonate, governments who at first took refuge in the vagaries of the Tunis Agenda’s language, have been forced to make their bottom line more explicit.

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.

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