Secret civil society business

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Secret civil society business
User: terminus
Date: 29/9/2011 5:29 am
Views: 8131
Rating: 3    Rate [ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ]
As the last post illustrated well, not everything that happens at the IGF happens out in the open. Even civil society, sometimes, meets behind closed doors - though the doors in question are generally those policymakers, rarely our own. So over the last three days, civil society representatives have had private audiences with the EU, the US and the UN on issues of mutual concern.

I don't know much about the first of those meetings, which was with the EU Parliament, because I wasn't there. Apparently the child online safety lobby crashed that party, and the IGC coordinators found out about it only afterwards.

The second of the meetings was between the IGC coordinators myself and Izumi Aizu, Assistant UN Secretary-General Thomas Stelzer, and his colleague Vyacheslav Cherkasov, to raise civil society's serious concerns about the selection of Azerbaijan as the host country for next year's IGF, in view of the country's poor human rights record and the high cost of both air travel and accommodation within that country. The UN staff appeared genuinely receptive, and will look into what can be done about the cost issue, but without an alternative offer to host the 2012 meeting, it is unlikely the host country will change.

Meanwhile rumours had been spread that civil society was planning a demonstration against the acceptance of Azerbaijan's offer. As far as I know, these rumours were entirely false. However a number of people, including Chengetai of the IGF Secretariat, came up to me to urge me to have the demonstration called off, because it would result in the demonstrators being ejected from the UN grounds indefinitely. Just a misunderstanding, or white-anting by those who want to cast civil society in a bad light?

Finally, this afternoon an informal private meeting was held between the US government delegation (Ambassador Philip Verveer, Dick Beaird, Jack Spilsbury, Andrew Harris, Justin Fair and Craig Reilly) and civil society representatives (myself and Izumi Aizu as coordinators of the Internet Governance Caucus, and Parminder Jeet Singh, Marília Maciel and Wolfgang Kleinwächter from the CSTD Working Group on Improvements to the IGF).

We were all agreed on the success of the IGF as a discussion forum, but the civil society representatives contended that improvements to improve the forum's output orientation were needed. The Indian proposal provided one possible template for doing this, generating a range of specific policy options that could be presented to policy makers, as WGIG developed policy options for presentation to the second phase of WSIS.

The US delegates, however, feared that such improvements would result in turning the forum into an intergovernmental-style negotiation. Whilst, by definition, governments have no problem with intergovernmental-style negotiation, they contend that this would destroy the IGF as we know it. In fact I'm the last to deny this, which is why I spent so long in my book exploring techniques of deliberative democracy that can help avoid such negotiation gridlock.

The fear, though, in my view, is overstated. After all, if we attempt to produce an output document and it doesn't work, how bad can the result be? Nobody is going to die. As I pointed out at the meeting, we could easily try it as an experiment for one year, and then abandon it if it didn't work. To paraphrase Kofi Annan (as I did both in my book and at the meeting), we need to be no less creative in developing Internet governance processes as those who invented the Internet. My colleagues spoke to similar effect, reminding us that multi-stakeholderism, and the IGF as a body based on this principle, are still young and that we should not be afraid to take measured risks and experiment until we find the ideal formula - one with a little more output orientation, but stopping short of intergovernmental-style negotiation.

More to the point, all this talk about not wanting to risk getting the IGF caught up in negotiations is just a smokescreen. More frankly, the biggest fear that underlies the objection to negotiations is not that it will damage the IGF, but (and this is an exact quote) that "governments can only cede negotiating authority up to a certain point." In fact for both governments and the private sector, the question is the same... how much of their power are they really willing to share?

Another topic of discussion was this year's "principle tsunami" (to borrow Wolfgang's phrase, and with apologies to Izumi), with governmental frameworks of principles on Internet governance having been put forward by the G8, OECD, EU, US, Brazil, Council of Europe and more. Wolfgang's vision is that civil society should develop its own similar statement of principles, and that we should then discuss it and the other statements within the IGF, working towards developing them into a common framework of commitments that can be agreed by all stakeholders, before the conclusion of the IGF's next mandate term.

As far as the US delegates would move during our discussion was to consider that perhaps the IGF meetings should have a particular theme around which its discussions could be focussed each year, and that main sessions and workshops could somehow develop and map policy options with respect to that theme. But they did also undertake to take all our comments on board. I don't doubt that the delegation does take the IGF seriously. In fact Ambassador Verveer very pertinently observed, and I agree, that the most important legacy of the IGF might not be in respect of Internet governance policy issues, but rather its contribution to the development of the multi-stakeholder model of global governance.
Re: Secret civil society business
User: terminus
Date: 30/9/2011 1:28 am
Views: 5888
Rating: 3    Rate [ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ]
Edited on 30 September to correct the reference to the EU meeting, which was with the European Parliament not the Commission. A separate civil society meeting with the European Commission was held yesterday. Wolfgang Kleinwächter reported about that meeting to the IGC mailing list as follows:
The meeting was arranged at request of the Commissioner [Kroes] and was the first meeting which took place between her and CS. From the EU - next to Commissioner - Thibaut Kleiner from the Cabinet and Andrea Gloriso from the DG. From CS Marillia, Katitza, Bill and me participated.

We raised a number of issues as the understanding of the multistakeholder policy dialogue and ways to increase civil society participation in public consultation on Internet related public policy issues organized by the EU. The Commissioner underlined the strong interest the EU Commission to get the CS perspectives and the readiness "to listen". However the Commissioner explained also that the established procedures within the EU predefine to a certain degree how input can be channeled into decisions on Internet related public policy issues.

Bill Drake called for a stronger support by the EU in strengthening the role of CS in intergovernmental bodies as the ITU, WIPO and others. CS people underlined that first priority for them are issues like freedom of expression, privacy, access, rights of disabled people and multiligualism in the Internet. There was no time to go into details as ACTA and other issues which are on the table.

We had also a discussion on ICANN issues, in particular the EU role in the recent GAC/Board meeting in Singapur and the six position papers. The Commissioner underlined that the EU will continue to push ICANN that decisions has to be in the framework of the law, in particular competition law (with regard to the new gTLD programm). CS people argued that an early involvement of the EU in ICANNs PDPs could avoid a number of conflicts.

CS asked what the Commssioner plans with regard to the announced Internet Compact, based on the seven principles Md. Kroes has outlined in her speech at the OECD meeting in July. She promised that a process will start soon and this process will be fully multistakeholder.

She promised to continue the dialogue and appointed both Thibaut Kleiner and Andrea Glorisos to be the contact persons.
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