How to get involved
International Negotiations *
Reaching Consensus: Negotiating the Documents
The documents that will represent the outcome of the Special Session are still under negotiation. Giving form and detail to the outcome documents is a process of negotiation and decision-making within and among Member States. These decisions are made in a variety of sessions including general debates, plenaries, panels, and closed working and informal groups. Often, these entail protracted negotiations and compromises in order to reach decisions and resolutions that will be contained in a report to be adopted at the conclusion of the meeting. The aim of the negotiations is to develop a text that all Member States will adopt by consensus.
Finding a way to influence what is included in these documents is a particular challenge. The following is a rough description of the different phases of a typical negotiating process that applies to PrepComs, Special Sessions, and other UN inter-governmental meetings:
Delegates to the meeting select a chairperson, vice chairpersons, and rapporteur, and formally adopt the agenda. The plenary session often begins with a general debate, which contains statements from governments and UN agencies. Government statements articulate their national position and priorities and serve to place official policy on the record. NGOs also have some opportunities to make statements.
Sometimes a group or coalition of governments makes a joint statement. Draft texts are prepared and sponsored by governments or groupings of governments.
The draft text becomes the focus of discussion and reaction, usually in 'informal' sessions (a session closed to the press - and often to NGOs - and for which there is no official record).
Working groups of Member States are formed to undertake negotiations that include specific amendments proposed by government delegates. If all the negotiators do not agree to the amendments, the text is placed in brackets, meaning that further discussion is required.
Once negotiations have taken place and consensus has been reached among Member States, the brackets are removed and the text can no longer be changed. Future work is concentrated on the bracketed text upon which consensus has not yet been reached.
On particularly controversial issues, the chairperson might ask a smaller number of governments that disagree on particular language to caucus, settle their differences, and come back to the meeting with agreed-upon language. At various stages during this process, different techniques and types of papers are used to facilitate negotiations among governments. These include the chairperson's summaries, 'non-papers' (unofficial drafts), conference-room papers and other papers.
As the pace of negotiations picks up, new draft paragraphs can be issued on an almost hourly basis. They are identified by date/time only, and are generally available only in English. While negotiations take place in the meeting, delegates frequently and regularly consult with their relevant national ministry in their country's capital city. The ministry will send instructions on how to respond - whether to adjust the policy and write the changes into its plans, whether to accept proposed formulations or offer alternative suggestions - and when and how much to compromise.
Generally, as the meeting nears conclusion, the group meetings of delegates become smaller. Chairpersons or convenors of negotiating groups may hold informal discussions in small conference rooms, their offices, in the corridor, or "over coffee." Such meetings are not listed in the UN Journal, which announces daily meetings.
Text will be issued with all the newly agreed-upon language incorporated into the text, including any remaining brackets. Negotiations will continue until consensus is reached or a vote is taken on the resolution or decision. In the final stages of a meeting, negotiations frequently continue late into the night. A text is rarely "defeated" by vote, as the sponsors will usually withdraw the text if they are not sure of a majority. Only in the rarest of cases, if ever, will a major program of action be put to a vote. Consensus is the rule.
Finally, the text will be adopted.
Government Negotiating Groups
Some government negotiating groups are well established in the UN system, such as the Group of 77 (G-77). Others, such as the European Union, are formal institutions both within and outside the UN system. A number of Member States tend to operate independently of negotiating blocks or in association with them. Below are some of the most common negotiating groups. These are continually evolving.
G-77 / China: Caucus of over 130 developing countries and China
European Union (EU): Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. At negotiations, the country currently in presidency of the EU will speak for the Union. Portugal is in presidency January - June 2000.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM): Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago
JUS-CANZ: Japan, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand
Negotiations within any particular UN meeting may
reflect not only the concerns of governments regarding that specific issue, but
also echo the wider geopolitical context within which any issue or set of issues
For example, finance for development issues and relations between South and North are being reflected in negotiations on numerous issues more or less closely related to questions of finance.
* based on:
NGO Steering Committee to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, 1999. Guide to the 7th Session.
UNIFEM, 2000: Gender on the Agenda. A Guide to Participating in Beijing+5.
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