Since the Tunis WSIS mandate was given to the UN Secretary General to convene the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), interest on the new emerging entity and its possible effects on the IG debate has been allegedly high. But as time is approaching when the IGF inaugural meeting will start its activities in Athens, Greece, now, almost 10 days before its first — ever meeting, participation of all stakeholders and key actors in the meeting has proved to be even more than expected in the first place. Approximately 1300 participants are estimated to attend the workings of the meeting, one third of which are state representatives (84 different delegations of countries), while the other two thirds consist of representatives from the civil society and the private (business) sector.
Such interest in the IGF actually shows that after all the WGIG was initially right in proposing an open space of dialogue in the international level and that such an entity was missing from the contemporary IG regime. Wide participation from all stakeholder groups does not, however, guarantee that the meeting itself will be a success. Success mainly depends on the outcome. And either the outcome of the IGF in Athens or its general influence in the IG debate in the future is actually the point that creates the greatest controversy among stakeholders and key actors.
As far as the outcome of the Athens meeting is concerned, the picture is pretty much clear. The meeting will produce a final report, accompanied with the sectoral reports of the four main sessions in openness, security, diversity and access correspondingly. Then the chairman of the meeting, the Greek Minister of Transport and Communications, may wish to sum — up the meeting in a paper probably drafted by the IGF Advisory Group and Secretariat. A third possible outcome, as referred to in the IGF website, might be emerging coalitions between key players in the pursuance of agreed initiatives. As is obvious, in the absence of general consensus and taking into account the reluctance of many stakeholders, the Athens IGF will not produce any substantive documents, such as recommendations or declarations, which might shake the elegant balance of agreement, more of the type "we agree that we don't agree", that prevails in the IG debate.
What is still vague though, is the future outcome of the IGF process in general. The mandate of the IGF (para. 72 of the WSIS Tunis Agenda), which cannot be reviewed before 2011 (para 76), is clear to what the Forum is not. It is however purposefully vague on what the Forum actually is and what it can produce as substantive outcome of its workings. Even its structure is not defined, leaving pressing questions unanswered, such as what will be the fate of the IGF Advisory Group after the end of the Athens meeting. To proponents of the current IG regime the IGF is simply a platform of dialogue, which will enhance common understanding of central IG issues and coordination between existing organizations relevant to IG. To critics the Forum is the ideal means to narrow down the IG issues and help to proceed in a change of the current state of play in 2009, when the new US DoC — ICANN memorandum expires.
It is difficult to tell with surety which view will be realized. The IGF is definitely a big step in the internationalization of the IG debate and a great opportunity for the global community to sit down and construct the principles and norms of a widely accepted IG regime. Yet, the IG debate will only proceed in the right way if the maximum possible consensus for any changes is achieved. And what is missing right now is the procedures that will establish such consensus and trust among all stakeholders. Therefore, from my point of view, the failure or success of the Athens meeting lies there, in the development of those procedures that will accommodate the widest possible participation and transparency of all stakeholders on an equal footing, principles in which all of us more or less agree on.
By Antonios Broumas, Attorney
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Minds + Machines