IGF's MAG renewed, governments flex muscles?

Finally, the UN Secretary-General has renewed the mandate of the multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) for the Internet Governance Forum. Officially, the Advisory Group's mandate expired with the closure of the IGF's first meeting in Athens in November 2006. Since then, the Advisory Group's status has been in limbo. What looked like an understandable delay for some time – there was a changeover of leadership in the UN headquarters in early 2007 – became a problem in May this year. Following open consultations in Geneva, the Advisory Group was supposed to meet to discuss the agenda for the IGF's Rio meeting in November. Without a formal mandate, however, the AG could not hold a meeting. The official public consultation had to be extended into another two days of unofficial, half public meetings.

Now, there is not only a new mandate including some concrete tasks, there is also a new position. The Advisory Group has obtained a co-chair who represents the Host Country, Mr. Hadil da Rocha Vianna from Brazil's Ministry of External Relations. Should this appointment be interpreted as a shift of the IGF towards a traditional intergovernmental process as some observers suspect? It is no secret that governments disagree on the meaning of the multi-stakeholder process and thus also on the way it should be implemented. Those who have read the real-time captioning of the May 23 Open Consultations know that some governments would like to see the multi-stakeholder Advisory Group replaced by a bureau with a formal structure of representation and arguably a stricter distinction between “the respective roles and responsibilities” of the participating stakeholders. Other governments prefer the informal status quo, if only to prevent the IGF from gaining too much political weight. A co-chair might be an acceptable compromise in this ongoing struggle for more or less intergovernmental baggage on the road towards an inclusive governance structure for the Internet.

There are two other interesting issues in the UN Press Release. It explicitly mentions that the Advisory Group has been tasked to make proposals on “a suitable rotation among its members”. This reflects a concern among civil society groups who suspect that unless some rules of procedures are established the multi-stakeholder approach will degenerate into some intransparent backroom deals by a few self-appointed buddies. The fact that the UN addresses this concern indicates a comprehensive care for the IGF's legitimacy which includes the views of non-governmental actors.

The second remarkable issue concerns the mandate of the IGF. The press release announces “critical internet resources” as an additional fifth theme on the IGF's agenda. Similar to old WSIS days, the G-77 countries forcefully made the point at the May 23 consultations that the question of DNS and IP address management needs be tackled in the context of the IGF to fulfil the Tunis Agenda. The UN press release acknowledges this claim by referring to its widespread support. So far, the UN's political support structure for the IGF strives to be inclusive and to balance the concerns of the various stakeholders. No major mistakes have been made.

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