‘Enhanced cooperation’ is one of the code words in Internet governance discussions and means different things to different people. The term goes back to the second phase of World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis in 2005. There is no common understanding of what is meant with the term, but it is used by some countries to push for setting up a new UN body to deal with Internet issues. As this issue will not go away and is bound to stay with us in the years to come, we opted for a more pro-active approach and start a mapping exercise of what happened since 2005 in relation to ‘enhanced cooperation’. We agreed with the Association of Progressive Communication (APC) and ICC-BASIS to organize a one-day pre-event back-to-back with the IGF in Baku on 5 November 2012. We also approached the previous developing country IGF Hosts and have received positive answers from Brazil, Egypt and Kenya to participate in this event. I announced this initiative on a panel on the Internet governance landscape at the ICANN meeting in Prague on 25 June.
A dedicated website will be set up to prepare for the event and we will issue a call for contributions. In particular, it would be of interest to learn from the community which questions ought to be addressed at the meeting.
In this context it is important to recall that Heads of State and government gathered in Tunis in 2005 recognized the fact that the Internet works well and the outcome document, known as the Tunis Agenda, noted the effectiveness of existing arrangements. However, the Tunis Summit also saw room for improvement. The Tunis Agenda created two seemingly separate tracks – the Internet Governance Forum and a process of ‘enhanced cooperation’. It is carefully crafted diplomatic language, full of creative ambiguity There are many who share our understanding, namely that ‘enhanced cooperation’ is a distributed process in line with the underlying distributed technology. On the other hand there are others who think that there is a need for a central mechanism or a new body to deal with this issue.
There was a one day open consultation in Geneva on 18 May with the aim to move towards a common understanding of ‘enhanced cooperation’. I was invited to be on an introductory panel and reaffirmed the Internet Society’s position: ‘enhanced cooperation’ takes place within and between existing organizations with no need for a central mechanism or a new body to oversee the process. (My statement is available here.) There was a strong push however for setting up a new body within the UN to take up the issue and deal with public policy issues pertaining to the Internet. Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Iran, India in particular made strong statements criticizing what they see as lack of progress in implementing the Tunis Agenda provisions on ‘enhanced cooperation’.
This issue was taken up by the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), which held its regular session in Geneva on 22-25 May. The meeting was very acrimonious and ended well after midnight on the last day. Much of the time was devoted to discuss a proposal to create a new UN working group on Internet issues. Non-governmental stakeholders were given the opportunity to provide comments and the Internet Society was coordinating with other stakeholders and friendly governments to make sure that whatever way forward would include all stakeholders on an equal footing. We moved towards a two step process: 1) a mapping exercise of what happened since 2005 in terms of ‘enhanced cooperation’ and then 2) to assess the outcome of the exercise before deciding whether there was a need to set up of a new working group.
We were near an agreement with Brazil and India and but this was rejected by the hardliners who insisted on a government-only group. The meeting ended with the adoption of a fairly minimalist resolution. The overall result is fine, insofar as nothing in the resolution goes against our interest. However, the issue will remain with us and we hope that the Baku event will help make the discussion more focused.