The evolution of global governance mechanisms reveals a number of responses from both state-based and new forms of actor. On the one hand, non-state actors (stakeholders) claim that they should be involved in global governance structures to provide legitimate and effective management of global public goods, and on the other hand, traditional governance mechanisms (states) claim to be more effective and efficient in representing their citizens’ interests.
Multistakeholderism, an emergent element of the discourse surrounding global governance institutions, attempts to bridge the gap between these old and new forms of actor, namely private interests, state actors and (transnational) civil society. It is a contested subject: different actors perceive these multistakeholder institutions in different ways. This transformation in global governance is designed to make governance processes more effective and more legitimate, but can it do both at the same time? Is it even capable of achieving either objective? Academics and policy-makers have indeed argued that regional governance and inclusion of private actors and civil society in policy dialogues could help resolve or mitigate the ‘political trilemma’ by making global governance institutions more efficient and more legitimate.
There is a tendency to regionalise global discussions in what we term a ‘cascaded’ form of global governance. We are also witnessing this in the context of the United Nations (UN) and related organisations. As a large (and quite unmanageable) number of actors from below, across and beyond the state start to participate in negotiations that were traditionally managed solely by states, alternative representations of how the world should be ordered are emerging.
This project compares two different policy areas in the broad field of global public goods where multistakeholderism has become a defining norm. An emphasis is put on the comparative nature of this research, across regions and across policy fields. Internet and trade governance are appropriate policy fields in which we can deepen our understanding of these processes, and where the institutions themselves may be able to learn from each other. Both have in common that multistakeholderism at the regional and global levels has emerged since the early 2000s and have accelerated in recent years. Both have also become more politicised in recent years (e.g. CETA/TTIP debates and the drive towards protectionism of the new US administration; human rights and censorship discussions at the Internet Governance Forum). However, there are also noticeable differences: while trade is a ‘traditional’ policy area where governance builds on existing institutions (path-dependencies), ‘internet’ is a new policy area which allows for more flexibility in governance. Also the nature and number of actors involved in (regional) multistakeholder mechanisms, as well as procedural and organisational issues seem to differ. To provide the project with an initial focus, we will concentrate on the role of the European Union (EU), one of the architects of the new global institutional framework. The EU has also actively promoted (inter-)regional interactions amongst the diverse range of actors that make up the multistakeholder environment. The EU’s COMPACT (2011) promotes a multistakeholder approach to the internet governance, and the EU promotes the civil society fora in bilateral trade contexts, e.g. under the EU-Cariforum Economic Partnership Agreement (2008) and the EU-Central America Association Agreement (2013). This project will therefore start by unpacking the EU’s approach to stakeholder engagement in the diplomatic (and policy) activity surrounding internet governance and trade agreements in a global context. The project is divided over two PhD projects in the field of multistakeholder governance, with a specific focus on civil society engagement in internet and trade governance. Through a deeper investigation into the role of the EU and its relations with other regional fora in the shaping of diverse global forums in both trade and internet governance, questions about the legitimacy and effectiveness of multistakeholder processes will be examined in a comparative way.