Kleinwachter: Don't move backwards on Internet governance

IGP note: This is a comment Professor Wolfgang Kleinwachter made regarding the future of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). At the recent Geneva consultations of the IGF, there was a disagreement over whether the UN Secretary-General's recommendations on the continuation of the IGF should be delivered through the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) or the Committee onScience and Technology for Development (CSTD) prior to the UN General Assembly receiving it to make a final decision. This seemingly obscure bureaucratic disagreement reflects a larger debate over how open and “multistakeholder” the IGF should be.

My observation is that this is part of a bigger story to move backwards, to cancel openess, transparency and bottom up policy development and to withdraw from the principle of “multi-stakeholderism”. It is aimed to get the Internet policy processes back under control of an intergovernmental regime and to silence non-governmental stakeholders, at least if it comes to public policy issues and decision making.

This recognition of the principle of “multi-stakeholderism” in the Tunis Agenda 2005 was the biggest conceptual achievement in WSIS and was in particular accepted as a guiding principle for Internet Governance in contrast to a “one stakeholder (intergovernmental) approach”. The acceptance of civil society as an “equal parter” (in their specific role) was a big step for civil society. This was paved by the constructive and substantial work the civil society folks did during WSIS I and II, documented in particular in the WSIS Civil Society Declaration, adopted in Geneva in December 2003 and handed over officially to the Heads of States (who accepted it) in the Closing Ceremony of WSIS I, and in the contribution to the results of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG).  The launch of the IGF as a “multistakeholder discussion platform” was the result of this. It emerged as the only concrete result of the WSIS debate because governments were unable to agree on “enhanced cooperation” (which in the understanding of many delegates was aimed to exclude non-governmental stakeholders).

However, many governments were not happy with this new IGF way of “sharing power”. I remember IGF consultations and MAG meetings in 2006 and 2007 where governmental representatives were questioning the presence of non-governmental stakeholders in the room. If you go to the transcripts of these meetings then you will discover that – as an example – the Chinese delegate never uses the word “multistakholderism” but always the term “multilateral” when it comes to IG principles. “Multilateral” is indeed a “used language” in the text of the Tunis Agenda (it comes from the Geneva 2003 compromise which defined the mandate of the WGIG). But for international lawyers it is very clear that the legal understanding of “multilateral” is “intergovernmental”. Parties in a “multilateral convention” are only governments.

The “opening” of the CSTD was a very complicated procedure which was first (in 2006) established as a preliminary exception but was later taken for granted (but never formalized). This was the “spirit of Geneva”, it was not the “spirit of New York”. If you talk to UN people in New York they send you to the moon if you raise “multistakehoderism” as basic approach to develop global policies. There is no multistakholderism in the UN Security Council!!! The so-called “Cardozo-Report” initiated by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which investigated the role of NGOs in UN policy development, disappeared into the archives and no single government in the UN General Assembly in New York was ready to draft a resolution with a follow up.

I do not know whether this is just a speculation but for some people the planned move of the IGF Secretariat from Geneva to New York is driven also by the political strategic aim to remove “multistakehoderism” from the Internet policy process. The public arguments, used by some governments (and unfortunately supported by some CS people) in favour of NY are: budget security for the secretariat, closer link to UN leadership, higher efficiency, formal outcomes. But the flip side of such a process is to silence non-governmental stakeholders, and in particular civil society. Do not buy this “efficiency” pill. This is very poisend.

The argument the UNDESA rep gave in Geneva that ECOSOC has also hundreds of “recognized NGOs” which allow consultations with non-governmental stakeholders sounds like a joke. My organisation – the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), where I am an elected member of the International Council and the liaison to ECOSOC – is officially recognized by ECOSOC since the 1960s. But the only thing we can do is to send written statements which are published before the meeting. You can speculate how many ECOSOC representatives read all these statements (sometimes several hundred pages).

In other words, to move the debate to ECOSOC means to silence an open and transparent debate among governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. It re-opens the door for intergovernmental horse-trading behind closed doors.. It is like in the pre-WSIS time when civil society (and private sector) were removed from the room after the ceremonial speeches of the opening sessions ended and the real debate started in June 2002. It took three years and ten PrepComs to change this.

This new move to re-install a one-stakeholder approach is paralleled by the planned WSIS Forum in Geneva in May 2010. This “WSIS Forum” is led by three intergovernmental organisations (ITU, UNESCO & UNCTAD). During the recent preparatory meeting in Geneva, there was no non-governmental stakeholder on the podium. Houlin Zhao, ITU Deputy Secretary General, pointed to UNESCOs relationship with NGOs and the involvement of the private sector in the ITU when he was asked about his understanding of “multistakeholderism”.

During WSIS there was a Civil Society Bureau (and a CS Pleanry and a CS Content&Themes Group)  and a private Sector Office which talked officially to the intergovernmental bureau. The non-governmental mechanisms – which emerged as functioning units during the WSIS process – more or less disappeared after Tunis 2005. The only remaining functioning of “multistakholderism” was the IGF and the UNCSTD. And this is now also under fire.

I write this as a wake up call to the new generation of Civil Society/Internet Governance leaders and activists. If you discuss details of Internet governance please do not forget the bigger political environment. In many places you are not welcomed. What you need beyond a good substantial IG agenda is also a clear political strategy to find the places where you can make your substantial arguments. You have permanently to reconsider your role and self-understanding in the micro AND macro processes. And you have to look for partners, both among “friendly governments” and private sector institutions, which are sitting – to a certain degree – in this context in the same boat as CS. And please, stay united.

And this is not just for the IGF and the future PDP for Internet Governance.. There are now plans to have a 3rd World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS III) in 2015, to evaluate the implementation of the Tunis Agenda and to work towards a WSIS 2025 strategy.

One comment

  1. Anonymous

    Clap Clap Clap for Wolfgang..
    I already saw this comment at the Governance List but it certainly deserved a post.
    I´ll ask his authorization to reproduce this concepts in Spanish.
    Andrés Piazza