What’s going on with WSIS+10? Part 2: The upcoming HLE and yet another MPP

[Part 1 of this two-part post is here]

A sixth MPP is now happening

As far as I understood it, the May Multistakeholder Preparatory Platform (MPP) meeting ended with no agreement to have a future MPP meeting the day before the WSIS+10 High Level Event (HLE) itself. The Chair did remark that he would be available to discuss the remaining bracketed text on 9 June, but people in the room interpreted it as a joke and laughed. The Chair certainly didn’t try to correct people’s interpretation.

But on Tuesday 3 June, two days after the fifth MPP meeting ended in the small hours of Sunday 1 June, an invitation went out inviting people to attend a—surprise!—sixth MPP meeting. The letter, signed by ITU Secretary-General Dr Touré, invited people to an afternoon session to continue the work of the MPP.[1]

I suspect, however, that the sixth MPP meeting could be difficult for a number of reasons:

  • If a total of 15 days of negotiation across five separate MPP meetings couldn’t achieve consensus, the extra scheduled four hours of discussion on 9 June isn’t likely to make much difference either. The sixth MPP will probably go well into the night, and possibly into the early hours of 10 June too, in an attempt to reach agreement on fundamental ideological differences on issues that realistically can’t be solved in a meeting about ICTs.
  • For HLE participants who hadn’t planned on being in Geneva for the day of pre-events on 9 June, there has really been far too little notice to change travel plans to be able to attend the MPP (hotel availability in Geneva is a particularly difficult issue to overcome at short notice).
  • To make matters more difficult, 9 June is a national holiday in Switzerland (Whit Monday), meaning that most Geneva-based staff at missions and UN agencies will have to sacrifice yet another day of leave (the third in less than two weeks) to attend a WSIS+10 HLE MPP meeting.
  • Some participants have suggested that they are reluctant to engage, believing that:
    • The meeting itself should never have been called, given the fact that there had been no clear consensus in the fifth MPP to hold another meeting.
    • The 1 June version of the #WSIS+10 Vision draft document does not accurately reflect what many consider to be the status of discussions at the end of the fifth MPP about what should stay in the Vision draft and what should move to a Chair’s report.

So given these issues, why would the ITU (and possibly the other UN agencies, too) and Chair of the MPP process decide to hold this meeting? Here are some thoughts:

  • There is a desire to have that attractive “100% consensus” stamp on all aspects of the HLE outcome documents that will be presented for the government ministers at the HLE to endorse (everyone wants to look good in front of the boss, after all). To try and get the last 5% agreed to, it was worth having one last ditch effort just before the ministers arrive to endorse the outcome documents.
  • ITU, in particular, has invested a lot of time and effort in promoting this multistakeholder process as a sign that it really is embracing the new era of open, transparent and responsive governance.
  • The Chair has also invested a lot in the process. States put a lot of effort into promoting their delegates to be Chairs of various international processes. If the process isn’t seen as a success, the State whose representative chaired the process may feel that they have been humiliated in front of their fellow States.

However, as quite a few participants at the end of the fifth MPP had pointed out, although there were still some clear areas of disagreement, on the whole, there had been a great achievement in reaching consensus on the vast majority of issues in the WSIS+10 Vision draft. The remaining areas of disagreement weren’t the result of failure of process, but were the result of fundamental political differences that go well beyond the narrower scope of ICTs and the Information Society. In the end, if the sixth MPP fails in its efforts to breach the current impasse on the remaining Action Lines text, then perhaps the HLE will choose to spin the outcomes of the MPP in precisely this way: as a successful process for negotiating consensus on a large number of issues, with agreement to disagree on a small number of topics that really need to be discussed in more issue-specific venues.

I suspect some governments were hoping/are hoping to be able to leverage various parts of the WSIS+10 HLE outcome documents to help support their views on what the final UN-wide review of WSIS+10 planned for 2015 should look like and discuss.[2]

But to be honest, given the way discussions have taken place in the past five MPP meetings, with some attempts to roll back to earlier negotiated texts (such as the Geneva Plan of Action) when those documents had been superseded by more recent texts (such as the Tunis Agenda), I suspect that the any future WSIS related events—including the 2015 final review—will also contain a bunch of governments wanting to pick and choose from whichever document texts best suit their views.

Whether governments get what they want from the remaining non-consensus sections of the WSIS+10 Vision document or not, they will continue to pursue their larger political goals at future meetings. If anyone tries to suggest that it’s the multistakeholder model that caused “failure”, or “unreasonable” behaviour by other delegates, then it’s just ignoring the larger reality of the situation: with the best intentions in the world, it is never going to be possible for a bunch of medium to low level diplomats and non-government stakeholders, in a meeting that really is only a small event when considered in the context of wider world politics, to find solutions to decades-long ideological impasses.


[1] Unfortunately, there was a bit of a mix-up with time, so the Touré-signed PDF invitation said “14:00-16:00” while the HTML web page said “14:00-18:00”. (This is a reason why you should never convene a new meeting with  so little time it’s difficult to double check that all your communications are in sync with each other.) A corrected invitation has now been emailed out.

[2] The format of the final UN-wide review of WSIS+10 in 2015 was so contentious at the 2013 UN General Assembly Second Committee’s drafting of the ICTs for Development resolution that they simply couldn’t reach agreement on what form it should take. Instead, they agreed to hold a series of informal consultations that were supposed to finalize the event’s modalities by the end of March 2014. That date came and went. At the 17th CSTD Session in mid-May, it was reported that the consultations should lead to agreement amongst States by the end of May. There were consultations in New York on 23 May, but so far, there haven’t been any signs of white smoke indicating a final set of modalities has reached consensus.

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