11 September 2005. The WSIS intergovernmental bureau yesterday has decided about the details of the final stage of negotiations. These are needed after PrepCom3 less than two weeks ago failed to reach an agreement on Internet Governance and the follow-up structure for the summit.
Closed Negotiations from 24 to 28 October in Geneva
A closed negotiation meeting will take place from 24 to 28 October 2005 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Here, governments will try to finalize most of the documents of the Tunis phase of the summit. On the first two days, governments will work on the “Political Chapeau” and the open paragraphs of chapter two (financial mechanisms) of the Operational Part. From 26 to 28 October 2005, they will try to close negotiations on chapters one (implementation) and four (summit follow-up) of the Operational Part. The sessions are not open to observers. After each session, the President of the PrepCom, Janis Karklins, will inform the observers on the advancement of the work. This will probably by via e-mail or by teleconference. So, civil society participants in the summit process are locked out and won't even have many chances for interaction in the real space.
From what we could hear from informal talks with Karklins, he will still try to get input from civil society each morning in an interactive session for about 45 minutes. The idea of a second similar evening session was raised, but is less probable because of time schedule constraints. Karklins also wants to make sure that the evening reporting on the status of the discussions will not be done only for people that can be present in Geneva. If Karklins really plans to just send out emails without the possibility for further questions, we all could as well just read the daily press releases provided by the ITU. So a teleconference would be the better solution, and is also a normal way for many civil society networks that are spread out over the globe. It remains to be seen if the traditional UN bureaucracy can really manage to get this done in a sufficient way.
In any case, the terms of participation for observers will be much worse than at the normal PrepComs, and even there civil society and the private sector had protested against a lack of meaningful inclusion. Many NGO activists have already announced that they neither have funding nor time to go to Geneva for this, and others do not waste to stay outside of the closed doors.
UN officials in Geneva have told civil society that this negotiating meeting will only be about removing brackets in the text (meaning: parts not agreed upon yet), not about the introduction of new paragraphs. But as the “follow-up” part of the Tunis documents is still an empty page, it is unclear how this can be dealt with. Especially civil society had been pressing the governments for months to think about meaningful follow-up structures for the time after the summit. If it is now excluded for this critical part, the summit might be over in five weeks without any serious implementation mechanisms for the "Geneva Principles". If that part is only discussed at the reconvened PrepCom right before the Tunis summit, civil society can provide input much better, but then the government delegates will be on deadline mode and will be less open for observers’ arguments and suggestions. In either case, this is a very concerning development. The governments are clearly to be blamed for this, as they carefully have avoided a discussion about this critical aspect of the whole summit enterprise for full four years and now have to agree in the last minute.
Limited participation at reconvened PrepCom from 13 to 15 November in Tunis
PrepCom-3 will then be reconvened on 13 November in Tunis, for a three-day session right before the summit. Information about the venue is not available yet. It will be mainly used to finalize the left-over pieces from the closed negotiations in October, and to deal with the big and still very contested chunk of “Internet Governance”. There, the modalities of work will follow the Rules of Procedure of the normal PrepCom, including the participation of and speaking time for observers in the plenary and subcommittee meetings.
For the more important drafting groups, there is a slightly new development. The chairpersons will now be able to decide how observers may participate. The three options defined by the bureau were those that already had developed informally during PrepCom3: Observing without intervention, speaking at the beginning, or complete exclusion with later getting information from the chair. Now, the scope and seriousness of civil society participation is left completely at the discretion of the chairs of the drafting groups. If friendly governments get these roles, it will be a nice improvement. If others do, civil society will lose its participation possibilities in exactly the field where almost everybody had cherished their contributions and expertise.
Another problem will be space limitations. The WSIS secretariat in its announcement wrote:
"We may have a relatively small venue and we may have to introduce overpasses. (...) Therefore only few participants from observers will be able to follow the resumed PrepCom, and the space/seats for observers from civil society may be limited."
The attribution of overpasses will be based on a self-organizing mechanism of civil society. Probably the coordinators of the caucuses and working groups, especially those who have been active around Internet Governance, will be provided with these.
Geneva Déjà vu?
The situation reminds us strongly of the last month before the first summit in Geneva two years ago. By then, a number of strongly contested issues in the summit declaration were still open, and the closer the summit came, the more was civil society locked out of the negotiations. At that point, we decided to draft our own summit declaration and officially leave the intergovernmental process.
This time it is even worse. The substantial problems are similar. But different to Geneva, there will not be another WSIS summit in two years from now. If the next five weeks do not produce any meaningful outcomes and follow-up structures, a major historic chance will be lost. The two-phased summit therefore currently reminds us of this famous quote by Karl Marx about history repeating:
"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
Resumed PrepCom-3, Tunis, 13-15 November 2005
Intersessional negotiation work, Geneva, 24-28 October 2005