Marilia Maciel, Center for Technology and Society of FGV, Brazil. Civil Society representative in the CSTD Working Group
Warning: This text reflects the author’s personal opinions and does not reflect the position of civil society on the issue.
Multistakeholder collaboration is a powerful, creative and positive force. But it never achieves an irreversible stage of “maturity”; it is something that is constantly under construction by collective effort, with unclenching fists and the true desire to build trust
After two meetings, the working group of the UN Commission of Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) on the enhancement of IGF failed to prepare its final report. The WG was successful in “collecting, compiling and reviewing the contributions” received, but it was not able to make “recommendations” for change, as envisaged by the mandate. The chair, Frédéric Riehl, will send to the next meeting of the CSTD his personal report and a compilation of all contributions. Probably he will ask for an extension of the mandate of the WG, so the group can complete its assignment.
Now that the meeting is over, it is important that the largest possible number of participants in the WG makes a frank and critical analysis of what happened, so the obstacles to build consensus can be identified and dealt with. This is fundamental to achieve better results in the future, if the mandate is renewed by CSTD.
Three major issues have prevented this small and committed group to reach the expected goals:
• The reduced number of meetings and the mismanagement of the little time that we had. More meetings and a more efficient methodology could have made much difference;
• The existence of conflicting and politically sensitive themes on the Internet governance agenda this year, as Enhanced Cooperation (Tunis Agenda, paragraph 69) and divergences between the GAC and the ICANN Board, served as a complicating background. Certainly, the overwhelming majority of WG members recognized the importance of IGF and genuinely made efforts to propose constructive improvements, however, the political context made convergences more difficult to achieve. Most governmental and nongovernmental actors acted within the WG according to their broader political strategies;
• The high degree of mistrust and poor quality of dialogue between stakeholder groups, which occurred during most of the time, being interspersed by brief genuine attempts at rapprochement that only palely reminded us of the high level of dialogue we have built over the past five years with the IGF.
I – The lack of dialogue deadly injured the working group
Perhaps it would be strategically interesting for the non-governmental actors to put the responsibility for the lack of dialogue entirely on governments. After all, collectively we could repeat the mantra that the non-governmental share of “multistakeholderism” is always constructively in agreement, thus trying to strengthen our own participation in the Internet governance regime. However, I believe this view is biased and counterproductive, as it does not portray the divisions that existed in the working group and would not, therefore, contribute to the overcoming of obstacles.
There were honest divergences based on different views on the IGF and the current system of Internet governance, both among states and among non-governmental actors, regarding the main themes on the table, such as the discussion on results (outcomes) of the IGF, on the composition of the MAG and on funding.
Most of these differences were not irreconcilable, if there had been a frank dialogue and attempt to reach a middle ground. But that’s not what happened, nor in plenary sessions, or in corridors. In the corridors, business sector representatives complained of governments, governments complained about the technical community and we, civil society, complained of everyone else. After each long day of discussion, each stakeholder group would split into strategic meetings. The lack of dialogue between the stakeholder groups rendered the task at hand much more difficult.
II – India, an actor in the spotlight
Among all participants, India was the only one to submit a detailed proposal on how to extract more objective and concrete outcomes from the discussions at the IGF, as early as the February meeting in Montreux. This proposal was available online in March 16. The text contributed much to the debate (whether or not one agrees with its substance), because it proposed a chorological and rational approach to the issue.
There was no other proposal as comprehensive as that one the table in the beginning of the second meeting, but Indian proposal was never discussed. Throughout the process, India as an actor (and never their proposals) was placed on trial. The country is being criticized on the grounds of being proactive, presenting their views, and asking for their effective discussion.
We, non-governmental actors, always complained about the lack of government involvement, but we were unable to be open to hear when such true involvement was present in the WG.
India is a leading advocate of Enhanced Cooperation, and had the transparency and coherence to re-affirm it at the meeting, even though I consider that this move was unnecessary and ultimately counterproductive.
But Indian position in favor of enhanced cooperation does not mean we should isolate it. That would be a strategic mistake. We should not push a government that represents one of the largest democracies in the world, and has come to defend multi-stakeholder participation in the IGF arena, to entrench.
Non-governmental actors need to strengthen dialogue and negotiations with India and some of the other countries that advocate for enhanced cooperation, if not on the name of understanding, then on our own strategic benefit.
III – Submit your proposal and I will submit mine!
Throughout the second day other proposals popped up. First, on the composition of the MAG, presented by India, the Technical Community and Egypt. Then Egypt has made proposals on working methods of the IGF and the format of the IGF meetings. Civil society also had a procedural proposal on how to conduct the discussion. However, none of these proposals came to be analyzed. We lost precious hours on the last day of our meeting, under the baton of the chair, aimless discussing question after question listed in the questionnaire, without any conclusions or sense of “closure”.
Basically, presenting proposals-and-counter-proposals became the main game between the parties, to the point where people could not know for sure who-proposed-what or who-was-against-what. That was a pity, because in fact there were excellent proposals on the table and some of them showed considerable degree of convergence between them, which was never identified during the meeting.
IV – The “consensus document” that would not fly
The chair tried to grasp the consensus among the parties on a document which was handed to us on the second day. Despite the commendable pro-activity, in my view, also expressed during the meeting, the document could not be endorsed as the result of the discussions within the working group, mainly because:
• It expressed principles and practices that are generally accepted and are commonplace in the IGF. It was shallow and had contradictory parts. Submit that document to the CSTD would not be fair to the efforts of the members of the working group because it was not consistent with the depth and quality of contributions;
• The document presented by the chair was extremely conservative regarding the improvements in the IGF. It had no structural changes but basically maintained the status quo;
• Therefore, the document did not seriously represent a proposal for a consensus among the diverging views, but translated much more accurately the aspirations of groups that, for their own legitimate considerations, want to keep IGF without major changes. This rendered consensus on the text very difficult.
Each time a change was suggested, the paragraph was placed in brackets. Of course, the decision to use brackets can be interpreted in different manners. In my view, it was a last attempt to try to work with the text in hand, which turned out to be unsuccessful, eventually. After every comment, the chair reminded us that time was running out and pressed us to accept the text as it was. It was a very counterproductive afternoon in an oppressive climate.
Acknowledging the fact that there was no final report was very disappointing for most of us. Once the meeting ended, some people, from all stakeholder groups approached the chair and the Secretary and asked them to seek the renewal of the mandate. That was the last move of the actors of the WG, all united around a common goal. Could this translate into greater future cooperation?
V – Some take-aways and an invitation
On the night of our last day in Geneva, something unprecedented (at least during the process of the WG) happened: members of civil society and the technical community had dinner together. The conversation was not about amenities, but remained focused on the WG. Without strategic considerations or fear, we exchanged views.
Some differences are more difficult to reconcile. Others just seem to be, because of the efforts it takes to put oneself in others´ shoes. What fear lies behind the resistance to more concrete results arising from the IGF? What is the sentiment toward the current composition and functioning of MAG? Do we “recognize ourselves” in it? What are the reasons and fears of governments that advocate for enhanced cooperation? Do they all have the same agenda? None of these issues was discussed openly in recent months by WG members, and may not have been sufficiently articulated even in the IGF.
The multistakeholder nature of IGF made us achieve something truly amazing over the past years. Stakeholder groups can actually talk to each other and engage in an open debate on difficult issues, such as critical resources, access, security and privacy. We left our trenches. During these years, I witnessed players being genuinely convinced after a fierce debate, and also amicably “agreeing to disagree” and to continue debating constructively in the future. Unfortunately, we are stumbling to do the same when we discuss the infrastructure of our own regime, outside the “friendly” environment of the IGF. How to deal with that?
Multistakeholder collaboration is a powerful, creative and positive force. But it never achieves an irreversible stage of “maturity”; it is something that is constantly under construction by collective effort, with unclenching fists and the true desire to build trust.
After our dinner, I probably understand better the opinions of colleagues in the technical community. While we do not share some views, I feel more comfortable and more able to seek converging positions.
Perhaps we should establish this open and frank dialogue on major political issues that will be in the agenda of Internet governance this year. A collective dinner with good wine? Here is an invitation… If the bill is shared, of course!