The Civil G8 2006: Are the waves of public opinion breaking against the cliff of officialdom?
The process has begun, and is gaining in strength, so let us now briefly review its prehistory, intermediate results, and try to predict its future...
It is gradually becoming traditional that as part of preparation for G6, G7 and, today, G8 summits, the official structures hold consultations with the non-governmental organisations of these countries, at various levels and in different forms. The declared goal of these consultations is to gather NGO opinions on the priority problems announced by the president country.
For Russia's 2006 presidency, these are energy security, education and health. Prevention of international terrorism, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international trade and development financing, amongst others, have also been named as as important topics for the international community.
Although Russia is now taking its first steps in this direction, its lack of experience is fully compensated by its great interest in global partnership and desire to achieve it. It is for this reason that the Civil G8 2006
project was organised at the initiative of over 40 Russian civil organisations.
Maintaining achievements reached in previous years through cooperation between non-governmental organisations and the G6, G7 and finally G8, as well as attempting to take this cooperation to a new level – this was the mission declared by Russian NGOs and their foreign colleagues in announcing the Civil G8 project. The key principles of the project are continuity, succession, transparency and openness,
and this is why it was organised to include wide public discussion of issues on the official G8 agenda. Based on his authority as president of the G8, the Russian president has expressed his readiness to ensure all necessary conditions for cooperation and dialogue between the public, Russian and foreign, and the G8.
An open platform for partner-type dialogue
The initiators of the Civil G8 2006 project invited all G8 non-government institution representatives interested in development of cooperation, as well as those of other countries, to take part in the consultation process. Its results – proposed ideas, opinions, approaches, and recommendations – will, in one form or another, be brought to the attention of the G8 leaders and officials. The initiators believe that coordination of the efforts of non-governmental organisations at a global level will help give a new impulse to development of fruitful dialogue on the most critical modern problems, and will enable further development of cooperation between different sectors of society and different G8 countries, including Russia, and also globally, for resolution of current problems facing the world.
The Civil G8 2006 programme includes:
- Preparation of recommendations reflecting the various positions of civil organisations with regard to official agenda issues for the Saint Petersburg summit.
- Organisation, including internationally, of general or thematic public events with participation by independent experts, in order to enable accurate definition of the priorities, positions and approaches of civil society institutions and national and international NGOs with regard to the agenda issues declared by the presiding country for the 2006 G8 summit.
- Civil analysis of official G8 documents of particular public interest.
- Accumulation of ideas and recommendations that non-governmental organisations are ready to present in the form of 'orders' to specific G8 leaders for the purposes of agenda formation for their next summit.
Summary documents of the public events held within the framework of the Civil G8 2006, as well as roundtable conclusions, proposals and recommendations, conclusions of expert analysis and other documents prepared during the consultation process, are passed to G8 representatives.
A significant current problem is formation of mechanisms for public monitoring of fulfilment of those resolutions of the G8 leaders that attract particular public interest or those that affect the rights of a substantial part of the world's population.
For the initiators of the Civil G8 2006 process, it is highly important that the recommendations and positions brought to the attention of the official G8 structures must be expressed in the name of the project's participant organisations and no-one else, as no-one has the moral right to represent the whole of civil society. Therefore, participation in the Civil G8 2006 consultations in no way limits civil organisations' right to make their proposals to governmental structures of the G8 countries through other means, using traditional opportunities and mechanisms for cooperation with the authorities.
The task of filling the Civil G8 2006 process with quality content based on past experience while bearing in mind factors specific to Russia is the basis for the formation of its Consultative Council
, which includes 49 respected representatives of international, Russian and national non-governmental organisations from various countries. The members of the Consultative Council may provide both the points of view of their organisations and their own personal opinions.
Any accompanying initiatives by civil organisations with regard to the issues for discussion are welcomed. Proposals may be made to any Consultative Council member.
Technical support for the consultation process, information-related work, and the organisation and holding of forums are all performed by the National Working Group for the Civil G8 2006 Project (coordinator – E. Pamfilova)
The main source of information for all participants of the Civil G8 2006 project is the Civil G8 website, a negotiating space which is open for free discussion, and forms a repository for ideas, proposals and recommendations, intended both for participants in the negotiation process and for experts. The site is available in Russian and English versions at http://www.civilg8.ru
The process of consultation with non-governmental organisations during the Russia's G8 presidency can be conditionally divided into three stages:
Initial stage (December 2005, January-March 2006)
The key task for this stage was formation of a circle of process participants consisting of representatives of NGOs and independent experts, and determining the various NGO positions and viewpoints with regard to the stated priorities of the forthcoming summit.
During this stage, a series of conferences, seminars and roundtables was held as part of the Civil G8 2006 process, with participation by civil society representatives and leading non-governmental organisations.
Meetings with regard to individual priority issues for the Russian presidency were scheduled bearing in mind the action timetable for the official G8 preparatory process (Sherpa meetings, Sous Sherpa meetings, ministerial meetings, etc). Under the Civil G8 2006 project, on 15 February 2006
a roundtable was held in Moscow for NGO experts on issues of energy security, education and health, with participation of representatives of foreign non-governmental associations and experts from the G8 countries. The roundtable's materials formed the basis for development of recommendations to the G8 leaders at the 'Civil Society Institutions' Contribution to the G8 Summit Agenda' International NGO Forum (Moscow, 9-10 March,
320 participants, of which around 100 were from abroad and a further 100 from the Russian regions, with the rest representing Russian federal NGOs).
Its work involved a meeting of Forum participants with Sherpas from all G8 member states, including the president of the European Commission, an event without precedent in the entire history of cooperation with the G8.
At this meeting, which lasted over two hours, the NGOs specified their positions with regard to agenda issues from all the Forum's roundtables: energy security, education, combating infectious diseases, human security, development financing and international trade, and defence of intellectual property.
Main stage (April-July 2006)
In the run-up to the summit, civil organisations involved in the consultation process are holding a second series of conferences, seminars and roundtables, as at the previous stage, in tandem with events taking place under the official G8 talks process. This format allows non-governmental organisations to exert a certain influence on formation of official structures' approaches as part of the summit's stated agenda.
On 18 May
of this year, as part of the Civil G8 process, a second meeting with Sherpas from all the G8 countries was held in Moscow for experts and international NGO representatives. Civil organisations from Russia, Canada, UK, Germany, USA, France, Africa and Latin America were represented at the meeting. This meeting continued a tradition established during the Canadian and UK presidencies. In 2003 and 2005, international NGOs met with G8 Sherpas to discuss the most significant global development problems for civil society in a semi-official capacity. The participants of the Moscow meeting presented the recommendations developed by the March Forum to the Sherpas, emphasising the necessity of governmental fulfilment of obligations previously undertaken in the G8 format. The Sherpas spoke on a whole range of G8 issues, and answered questions from the NGO representatives. Absolutely all attendees took part in the discussion, which lasted over two hours in the form of thematic dialogue.
On 19 May
the event's participants, together with the Sherpas,
visited Kazan (capital of Tatarstan, one of Russia's republics), where a range of meetings took place as part of presentation of the Civil G8 2006 project to regional NGOs. Discussions and exchanges of opinions with the Tatarstan contingent took place with regard to civil society issues.
3-4 July, Moscow – International Civil G8 Forum for Non-governmental Organisations – the project's key event.
The goal of the Forum is discussion of problems concerning the global community in connection with the forthcoming G8 summit in Saint Petersburg, elaboration of the positions expressed by non-governmental organisations at the 9-10 March Forum, and preparation of proposals in the form of 'orders', which may be taken account in subsequent agenda formation
The summary documents adopted on conclusion of the Forum are to be passed on to the leaders of the G8 countries and distributed to a wide range of non-governmental organisations and other interested parties.
The Forum's participants are planned to number around 500 NGO representatives. As well as the G8 countries, they will include participants from many other countries of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
Concluding stage (August-November 2006)
The main tasks of the Civil G8 2006 for this period are formation of mechanisms for public monitoring of realisation of the summit's resolutions; summarising the results of the consultation process; and development of recommendations for the representatives of the 2007 president country.
During the concluding stage of consultation with civil organisations involved in the process, seminars and roundtables will continue to take place in parallel with events held under the official G8 talks process.
On completion of each forum, the civil organisations will will provide summary documents to the corresponding official multilevel meeting.
This format of collaboration allows interested civil society institutions to attract attention to those ideas not receiving the reflection they merit in the summary documents of the Saint Petersburg summit.
Under the stated principle of continuity, on 26-27 October
a NGO roundtable is to take place with regard to problems of African development (one of the priorities announced last year under the UK's presidency).
This stage, and the entire process of NGO consultation during the Russian presidency, should be concluded with a final NGO Conference, 'Realisation of the G8 Agenda', which will take place in 2006 (November)
, possibly with participation of the Russian and German Sherpas, and also, bearing in mind the principles of process continuity and succession – involving passing over the 'civil baton' for public accompaniment of the 2007 summit to representatives of German NGOs.
As yet, the question remains open as to whether the Civil G8's participants will be able to achieve a more significant influence on the issues discussed by the G8 leaders and solutions adopted, as well as achieving cooperation with them which is real and not merely a ritual...