Last weekend I participated in the joint GigaNet and Graduate Institute workshop, The Global Governance of the Internet: Intergovernmentalism, Multistakeholderism and Networks. Here's what I had to say about whether intergovernmental organisations are or should be stakeholders in the multi-stakeholder system of global Internet governance; in other words, whether in a multi-stakeholder forum that addresses global Internet public policy issues, whoever that forum might happen to be convened by, are IGOs entitled to participate as stakeholders in their own right.
According to the Tunis Agenda, the preferable view is that IGOs are not stakeholders. Paragraph 34 adopts the definition from the Working Group on Internet Governance which states that “Internet (WGIG) governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”
Paragraph 35 then goes on to say “We reaffirm that the management of the Internet ... should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organisations”. So clearly there is a distinction being drawn there. It also says “Intergovernmental organisations have had, and should continue to have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues.”
So according to the Tunis Agenda IGOs are not be a stakeholder. But then we have to look at the practice, and in practice, increasingly, they are. An important precedent for this was set in 2010 when the CSTD Working Group in Improvements to the IGF was formed, comprising of 22 governments, plus five representatives each of the business community, civil society, the technical and academic community and intergovernmental organisations, who were all described in the same terms as “stakeholders”.
This precedent was followed in 2012 when the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation was formed, with the same distribution of stakeholders, and without any further discussion as to whether it was appropriate. To the extent that a precedent has been set, is it too late to argue that it should be rolled back in future multi-stakeholder Internet governance arrangements? I consider that we can and should argue for this, on the following three grounds:
The CSTD working groups have not actually been multi-stakeholder bodies. They are intergovernmental groups, in which other stakeholders are simply present as “fully engaged” observers. In that context, the composition of these groups cannot be taken as authoritatively expanding the specification of three stakeholder groups in the Tunis Agenda.
The selection process for the IGF MAG does not recognise IGOs as stakeholders, only as observers (although as with the CSTD working groups, the distinction is largely formal). As the only fully multi-stakeholder body that came out of WSIS, the composition of the IGF MAG should be given some weight.
Most fundamentally, IGOs are not a stakeholder because unlike governments, the private sector and civil society, they do not have a significant stake in the development of Internet-related public policy, which is, after all, what being a stakeholder is all about.
This is not to say that IGOs should not be involved in multi-stakeholder Internet governance processes. But this is because of their instrumental value – that is, it is useful to have them involved in multi-stakeholder governance processes because they can facilitate those processes, as the UN Office at Geneva facilitates the IGF, for example. But their involvement is not a plank of the legitimacy of those processes. This is particularly so because governments are stakeholders directly, so there is no room even for a derivative claim of legitimacy by IGOs,