Enhanced cooperation is the intentionally ambiguous term applied in Tunis in 2005 as part of the a government declaration, the Tunis Agenda. Since the beginning it has had many meanings, that generally fall into one of three clusters:
- Cluster G: By those who favor Governmental and Inter-governmental control of the Internet;
- Cluster M: By those who favor distributed bottom-up multistakeholder forms of management and governance for an open and Internet;
- Cluster R: By those who generally believe in an open Internet but who see the necessity for various regulatory functions.
The Tunis Agenda is a special document.
For some it is scripture-like, a well worn book with dog-eared pages that can be quoted by paragraph number. For example Cluster G might say according to 69 and considering 35a, government have sovereign authority over Internet public policy” or Cluster M might say “according to context given in 55 thru 85 and considering the dissimilarity between the role of governments as described in the first sentence of 35a and the second sentence of 35a, this is not the case,” and so on - there are many such quotes, enough to fill the libretto of a light opera.
For others it offers both a promise and a trap. It offers the promise that all stakeholders have roles and responsibilities in the determination the public policy of the Internet. It also traps stakeholders in roles defined by Governments, definitions that elevate governments above the people. In other words, paragraph 35 and 36 are disasters defined by governments to increase their power while denigrating the power of other stakeholders.
This document defined by governments with little input from other stakeholders is an important corner stone of the ongoing discussion of Internet governance. But its diplomatic ambiguity has been such as to keep everyone dissatisfied in its deployment. That is why in 2012 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that mandated the creation of a multistakeholder “working group on enhanced cooperation to examine the mandate of the World Summit on the Information Society regarding enhanced cooperation as contained in the Tunis Agenda.”
We were scheduled to complete our work during this meeting. We did not. While in the real world some might be tempted to think of the meeting as a dismal failure, in the world of the UN and especially in the world of international public policy dialogue on Internet governance, the meeting was a success. Not a great success, but a success.
Fortunately a transcript of the words everyone spoke during the 5 day meeting will be available at some point <links when they become available here> and there are chair’s daily summations included in those reports, so I will not try to report on the meeting. Will only give a few impressions of what I thought was important. In some places the discussion is dry, and some cases rather witty.
- We never managed to discuss some of the most important considerations, those having to do with developments concerns and those dealing with removing the barriers from participation in Internet governance. We spent most of the time circling the drain on the interpretations of 69 and 35 (see above). This is disappointing since the whole point behind the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the process that culminated in the Tunis Agenda was about how to bring the developing and undeveloped part of the world into the the Internet age (also known as bridging the digital divide). Many of the members of the working group are resolute that this will be the focus of the next meeting. It better be, or else we will have failed.
- Enhanced Cooperation, by Cluster M interpretation of the Tunis Agenda, was supposed to be part of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) debate. However, since several countries from Cluster G, so disliked this notion, they influenced the UN General Assembly to rend these goals asunder. Because of this, the IGF, a forum that is able to use its bully pulpit to motivate change in other organization was barred from even discussing enhanced Cooperation. Among the yet to be fully agreed resolutions is one that finally allows that, while the IGF and Enhanced cooperation are separate processes, there should no longer be a restraining order that prevents the IGF from making recommendations on Enhanced Cooperation. Should this recommendation get full approval in the next meeting, it will be a big step forward, At this point I am grateful for the wee step forward exhibited in the proposed resolution.
- Many organizations have done their best in enhancing cooperation over the years despite the vehement objection from some of the charter members of Cluster G. they claimed that these could not be Enhanced Cooperation because they weren’t being by for and solely of Governments. The dialogue and conversation in the meetings allowed a glimmer of acceptance that perhaps these organization had helped in enhancing cooperation, even if everyone wasn’t quite ready to call them Enhanced Cooperation. The word games we play in these meetings are really a philosopher’s happy place, but this is another half step forward.
- These ware some incipient glimmers of a willingness to review the unistakeholder defined multistakeholder definitions. This discussion, while categorically rejected by Cluster G, was nearly accepted by some of the governments of Cluster M, as long as no one tried to reopen the Tunis Agenda. One of the most interesting, and perversely hopefully discussions of this was when one government declared (approximately)
' Some declare the multistakeholder model to be a form of democracy. We don't really know what multistakeholder means, while we do know what democracy is.'
At which point I looked around the room at the countries represented in the room and thought about all the different forms of democracy, and near democracy, and tried to imagine what the common definition of democracy might be. I felt comfortable that the confusion and disagreement over the definitions of the multistakeholder model and democracy were of a similar magnitude. Since I define the multistakeholder model as a intermediate form of participatory democracy, I feel quite comfortable that we would eventually be able to define it in such a way as to allow it to blossom.
I think I may have more to add, but I need to pack and prepare to travel to my next stakeholder meeting - the IETF.
We have more to do to complete our work, but I think we are on the way. I hope we can fulfill our function with distinction in our next meeting and become a ‘great success’ - which is UNese for ‘they did ok’.
[And as has become common is such articles these thoughts are mostly my own, though I have borrowed some from the wise people around me, but in any case I am solely responsible for them.]