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 Friday, 5 July 2002

Informal discussions

Unlike the days preceding, day five of the preparatory committee meetings for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was informal and more relaxed. Rather than all of the stakeholders gathering for a continued dialogue about rules and themes, the assembly broke up into separate units to focus their discussions on matters that concern them most. These informal meetings are a means to help each stakeholder group, from civil society and the business community to the UN and affiliated agencies, identify the synergies stemming from the first round of preparatory meetings.

As with any international summit, each stakeholder group comes to the table with a specific agenda and issues they would like to see addressed at the highest levels of government. WSIS is no exception. Regardless of the logistical issues associated with addressing the unique need of each stakeholder, all of the stakeholders realize the importance of WSIS and have expressed their commitment to developing a summit that is not stifled by bureaucratic hurdles.

Despite the complexity of the themes and issues associated with WSIS, the HLSOC members agreed to work with the Executive Secretariat to devise a roadmap to facilitate coordination between their efforts and those that will take place at the upcoming regional conferences. John Dryden, representing the OECD, pointed out that it is vitally important to quickly determine the focus and overall themes of WSIS in order to guide the discussions at the four regional ICT-related conferences that will take place before the next preparatory committee meeting. While many questions remain, a consensus emerged from this high-level meeting, one that seeks to clarify the meaning and focus of WSIS.

Erecting building blocks

In an informal meeting to discuss the working documents prepared by the second subcommittee, the member states voiced their opinions about the language of the themes and principles for WSIS. Similar to the previous day's proceedings, the delegations offered proposals on how to make the content for the Summit more explicit, while trying to make the terminology acceptable to all member states. The European Union (EU) representative stressed the need to have a balanced summit, with the outcome that is relevant for all stakeholders. The EU representative said, "The preparatory committee and the Summit should aim at a concerted effort to extend benefits of the information society to all, and should consider in a balanced manner infrastructure and content issues including the digital divide."

The member states advocated the need to better explain broad terms, such as governance, cultural diversity and the digital divide. Pointing out that the working documents lacked the reference of 'people,' the Canadian delegation stressed the importance of the 'community of people,' specifically women and children. Concurring with his Canadian counterpart, Egypt's representative expressed support for including the word 'people' in the text of the principles for WSIS. Alternatively, Korea suggested that the assembly should better explain why such a global approach to building the information society is necessary, stressing the need to outline the benefits of WSIS more clearly.

From expanding on the notion of cultural diversity to clarifying the meaning of global governance and reorganizing the themes, the informal meeting between member states proved to be very useful for establishing the thematic building blocks for WSIS.

A view from Europe

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe together with the
Government of Romania and in collaboration with ITU-WSIS will hold its regional preparatory conference for WSIS in November 7-9 2002 in Bucharest, Romania, and today's informal meeting between the UNECE countries, business sector and civil society demonstrated there is much work to be done to coordinate ICT-related activities before the next WSIS preparatory meeting in March 2003. Mr Dan Nica, Minister of Communications and Information Technology in Romania, pointed out that the European Regional Conference will be an occasion to present national strategies, challenges and success stories from across the region. It will also allow the participants to get a better view of different development stages in the transition to the Information Society. Europe's will be the first regional conference related to ICTs and development. During the session, the assembly discussed the various goals for the information society, initiatives and strategies, all couched in terms of the three core concepts for WSIS - information society vision, access and applications. Of specific mention, the attendees discussed the availability and provision of online services, the accessibility of citizens to those services and the reduction of bureaucracy in their provisioning.

Speaking on behalf of the International Chamber of Commerce, Maria Cattaui stressed the intertwined nature of a robust business sector with the underlying IT frameworks that support it. Ms. Cattaui went on to highlight the importance of developing the necessary relationships between government, citizens and businesses for facilitating the evolution of a flourishing information society throughout all of Europe. Ms. Cattaui noted that competition law, free markets/trade and intellectual property rights are also important components to creating an information society.

Noting the usefulness of the proposed thematic roundtables at WSIS, the Russian delegation voiced a concern about infrastructure build out and content creation. Meanwhile, Latvia called for an organized forum dedicated to the elaboration of a global model of information society, while Denmark and Ireland emphasized the need for creating a fostering environment for all stakeholders. Reinforcing the importance of stakeholder partnerships, Armenia stressed the need broker new partnerships that will last beyond WSIS, thus ensuring the continued collaboration on ICT and development initiatives well into the future.

Wrapping up

After a two-hour delay the final plenary meeting at the first preparatory committee got underway. The preparatory committee president, Mr. Samassekou, thanked the assembly for its hard work throughout the week, and stressed the importance of an open and focused dialogue on finding a consensus for the adoption of the final reports. Despite the fact that some items were still up for debate, the member states were able to craft a viable framework for moving forward with future preparatory committee meetings and WSIS.

The assembly quickly approved the first subcommittee report, which consisted of three separate documents outlining the rules and procedures. However, consensus was not as easily reached for the report offered by the second subcommittee. The Mexican ambassador, who served as chairman of the second subcommittee, highlighted two documents consisting of the principles and themes for WSIS. He reported that the subcommittee successful passed the first document on principles, but time did not permit the subcommittee to address the many issues associated with the themes. Opening the floor for debate, President Samassekou urged the assembly to be brief.

The Brazilian delegation opened the debate by reiterating its proposal for merging the two documents together, which gained majority approval during the subcommittee proceedings. The Indian representative urged the assembly to begin identifying synergies between the upcoming regional conferences and the WSIS preparatory committee's efforts, stressing the need to have some documentation to guide discussions during the regional conferences.

Given that the second subcommittee was unable to complete its work on finalizing the themes for WSIS, the Indian representative proposed that an informal meeting be held sometime prior to the second preparatory committee meeting. Concurring with its Indian counterpart, the Switzerland delegation suggested having a two to three day meeting sometime in autumn to finish the development of themes for WSIS. Offering support for the Indian/Switzerland proposal, the United States representative also suggested to schedule meeting around another event in Geneva to reduce travel costs for the delegations. Pakistan, Columbia and Russia, among others, also expressed support for the Indian/Switzerland proposal.

The final item to address concerned the date for the second preparatory meeting. While March 24 thru April 4 was initially proposed, Denmark pointed out that the UN Human Rights conference would be taking place at the same time. The assembly was unable to identify a viable alternative and called on Executive Secretariat to come up with a solution. Noting that there are still some institutional and logistical issues to be resolved, President Samassekou concluded the first preparatory committee meeting at 7:15 CET.

For media information concerning the second phase of the Summit, click here

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