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Sunday, March 06, 2005

This Week: International "Madrid Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security" Prepares Its Agenda

Toward Opening Up the Madrid Summit Process

As one of the participants in the on-line Summit debate Forum, which OpenDemocracy's Bill Thompson created to try to open up the process of the Madrid Summit (see his posting on NMK), I wanted to indicate how much I have appreciated his work and that of safedemocracy.org. I also greatly appreciate the way Thompson underlined in his comments the rather paradoxical limitations of the way most of the work of the Summit has been conducted through relatively closed group discussions. Thompson's comments underline what could be the most fundamental contradiction of the Madrid Summit: the distance between its stated objective of creating a more democratic framework for responding to contemporary threats to democracy, and its fairly closed process centered around the work of the same experts and former state leaders who usually determine the policymaking process. I will be interested in what OpenDemocracy has to say in its post-Summit evaluation of what was "democratic" about the Madrid Summit Process--

Unfortunately, if the only significant element of "openness" in the Madrid Summit process is the on-line Forum that OpenDemocracy has created, The Forum may simply be covering over the degree to which this Summit is reproducing many of the same old closed and relatively undemocratic policymaking structures and agendas. I hope, of course, the Framework of the final Summit Agenda suggests otherwise. But the Summit process, at least from the perspective of this outside observer, does not so far suggest too much reason for optimism.

If the Agenda produced by the Summit ends up merely repeating much of the already existing liberal Agenda of experts and state policymakers for responding to terrorism, I hope OpenDemocracy will not hold back its critique of the Agenda and the relatively closed process that created it, simply because it has been instrumental in providing the Forum as a supplement to the working group process. We know, after all, that too often public comment, as in a newspaper's editorial column, is "allowed" to happen so that people will feel they have a place to "voice their opinion" about what goes on beyond their sphere of influence. This is a major technology for "manufacturing consent." But democracy is not simply about voting and allowing opinions to be voiced on the periphery of a policymaking process controlled by others. Substantial democracy is about taking part in the policymaking process--helping to make policy, establish agendas, and the frameworks for implementing them.

If OpenDemocracy wants to make sure its involvement with the Madrid Summit does not serve merely to cover over the serious democratic shortfalls within the micropolitics of the Summit, and the potential contradictions existing between the stated objectives of the Summit and its own political process, I hope OpenDemocracy will devote considerable attention to critical discussion of the Madrid Agenda, the micropolitical process that produced it, and the extent to which the creation of the on-line Forum did or did not "make any difference" to what went on within the working groups, or to how the Madrid Agenda was framed and written. Did the presence of the on-line Forum exert any real influence on the Madrid Process, or was it merely window-dressing, a space for those not materially involved in the process to voice opinions from the sidelines?

Whatever the results of the Madrid Summit, Bill Thompson and OpenDemocracy have provided a valuable example of the way such on-line forums can work to challenge future international summits to be more open to real democratic interchange. But in order to build on this experiment in Open Democracy, I hope the members of OpenDemocracy involved in the Summit will take up the democratic challenge of being anthropological participant observers of the micropolitics of the Summit events this week. And I hope all participants will think about what we can learn from what did and did not happen at this Summit to make future international policymaking Summits more truly democratic in both their process and their results--

I expect, for example, we can learn much simply by examining the limits of the discussion that developed on the Madrid Summit's SafeDemocracy Debate site. If analyzed, the Archive of the Forum discussion will yield insights for what can be done better next time to provide not merely a space for civil society to voice its opinions from the periphery, but to engage and open up the policymaking process at this kind of global Summit.

Briefly stated, the SafeDemocracy Forum space seems to have been added on, rather late, to a Summit process that was already largely formulated without consideration for any deeper structural questions of democratic process. The Debate Forum therefore seems to have been set up primarily to offer space for those who were clearly outside the activity of the working groups, to "voice" their opinions. Insofar as the Forum space was added onto the Summit process as a kind of secondary appendage, rather than incorporated into the fundamental process of the Summit working groups, the Forum may thus have worked to enforce, rather than break down, the traditional division between those on the outside of the policymaking/working group process ('ordinary' citizens), and those on the inside (the experts and the state policymakers).

Thus, ironically, even in trying to open up the Summit to more democratic voices, the structuring of the Forum site as primarily a space for voicing opinions rather than interacting directly with members of the working groups, may have enforced the traditional hierarchical divisions between the everyday citizens "voicing" their opinions about issues from the periphery of the policymaking space, while the actual work of policymaking was conducted within the closed working groups--as usual beyond the reach and active involvement of everyday citizens.

The rather perfunctory reports posted in mid-February on the Forum by some of the working groups, seemed only further to underline the ways in which the working groups seemed to be carrying on their discussions just as they would have without the existence of the Forum. For all these reasons, I would be especially interested in the pre- and post-mortem reflections of Bill Thompson and other members of OpenDemocracy who are participating in the Summit, on what they thought worked well and not so well in the interactions between the Debate Forum space and the policymaking space of the working groups.

In any case, whatever the limitations of the process and results of this particular Summit, OpenDemocracy's work to create this Forum in relation to the Madrid Summit has opened up a new space for democratic experimentation that, as the postings of Nancy Skougor and Paul Hilder already indicate, may lead to the creation of more truly democratic "Third Force" policymaking Summits of the future. And for the work of Bill Thompson and all the Forum participants in opening up this space of democratic experimentation--a space open to the future of “democracy to come”--I am grateful.

May everyone who can afford to be in Madrid to participate in the Summit events, do so by keeping in mind all of us who cannot afford to be there, but who still have a significant contribution to make to any truly democratic global policymaking process. As we all think about ways to open up and democratize the policymaking process, through integrating virtual Forums like this one more directly into the “working group” process, we can all make a significant contribution to building the future of democracy to come.

Policybusters.net

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