It is raining on the Belgians!
We move towards the popular issue of the participation by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Commission meetings. Examples of NGOs dear reader would include the World Wide Fund for Nature. The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and so forth.
However, Morocco wishes to say something about the visa situation. He suggests that the inability of some delegations to come to host countries is not just a handicap but discrimination by the host country. He asks that the host country commits to all the arrangements that will ensure the participation of all contracting members.
Vicky, who has now been returned to the great hall, has pricked her ears up at this.
The Chair leads us back to the participation of NGOs
This has been discussed for years says Norway. Three years ago NGOs were given trial participation and it was also on the list of issues to discuss under the Future of the IWC process. The Future of the IWC process was about normalisation and we have still not achieved this - it is still not an organisation that is able to fulfil its basic management mandate – it still needs to be ‘normalised’.
The blog scribe is pleased to recognise the return of the previously popular mantra of normalisation and efforts to normalise the IWC and its inhabitants.
Anyway, the Norwegian spokesman continues that under these circumstances it does not make sense to increase the number of voices –and his experience with NGO participation is not entirely positive. With this background, he is reluctant to endorse the idea of NGO participation.
Chair: do you agree we go ahead with the proposed way we have discussed? Norway nods in reluctant agreement.
The UK (in the form of its minister, Richard Benyon) now replies on the visa issue. He states that there are clear instructions on the IWC website for countries to apply in good time for a visa. There is no attempt being made to block applications and there is no evidence that there are visa problems.
Nonetheless, St Kitts and Nevis takes to the floor to state that this matter is of significant importance to those countries who were not given the opportunity to be here and it is of significance to countries who would normally engage in discussions with those countries. He is very disappointed with the way the secretariat wants to move forward on this issue – this is urgent but the secretariat says we have to wait until tomorrow. The explanation given has not been adequate and this issue is not being treated with the urgency that it deserves. He appeals to the Chair to indulge us in this discussion now.
The Chairman says that at the private commissioners meeting it was agreed to discuss this tomorrow!
But Antigua disagrees - the issue was raised and the secretariat said he would need a few days but we did not agree to this. This is a regrettable way of handling this matter. A number of delegations will be affected by decisions made here in their absence and they are absent for no fault of their own. The UK Minister’s response lacks compassion and empathy and has a certain terseness that is inappropriate in these circumstances. I was not intending to be here in Jersey but then decisions were made by my government that meant I had to be here in place of Antony Liverpool – these are the kind of circumstances we must be able to anticipate and deal with. We do not expect this from a country such as the UK which prides itself as being the centre of democracy and rules and is the head of the commonwealth. A significant number of West African countries have been denied the right to participate in discussions on key and critical issues that are important to them. The silence that penetrates this room since Sunday demonstrates a lack of humanity. We have been at a cross roads, valiant efforts of many to normalise [the Commission] have been met with fierce resistance – to continue to conduct this meeting in this current atmosphere and in the absence of key constituents would be a travesty of justice, this body should take a decision to postpone decisions and discussion on issues which will impact delegates who are not able to be in this room through no fault of their own. He She concludes by asking the secretariat to bring us the information on this by the end of this meeting today.
The Chair reveals that he has suffered visa difficulties himself (but presumably not on this occasion). We must try to get everything done by consensus, he adds hopefully, and says that he will try my best not to have to go to voting.
We move to the report from the Finance and Administration.
The Russian Federation is not happy with F&A. If the decision goes to the vote we cannot wait on the Secretariat report.
The Chairman says the report will come this afternoon and then we will discuss this. We should not point fingers but look to the future. There will be no votes or decisions today. He tries to move on…
Australia starts to make the report from the Finance and Administration Committee (F&A) Committee which was chaired by their commissioner. This is a long and complex report and we will only give some highlights here.
Timing of the annual meetings is discussed. The F&A Committee recommends a separation between the Scientific Committee and the Commission meetings. It also recommends holding the Commission meeting itself biennially (although some concerns were raised about this); the Scientific Committee would still meet annually.
Apparently the great hall is now leaking. The Belgian delegation – at least on its scientific left flank is getting wet. We will be offering umbrellas later. Outside protestors are now behind the barriers by the busy road in the pouring rain. The skull and crossbones is flying there and passing cars are hooting their support.
Iceland, New Zealand, Colombia and others wish to take part in a working group to look at the details of separating the meetings. Japan wants to be involved in the meetings too.
The proposals from F&A up to this point are agreed
We move on to the development of the website. Monaco is particularly pleased with a section for children that is planned. (‘How to kill your own whales for the underfives perhaps’.) It seems all are pleased with what is proposed.
We move to the issue of the review of the financial arrangements of the Commission. This includes the rules that cover cash payments made to the Commission by member nations. This is where the key UK proposal to this meeting comes up. This also extends to the use of scientific advice.
The UK proposal is a package stresses the minister. Included is the issue of NGO participation, including speaking rights. Other IGOs allow NGOs to speak at the discretion of their Chairmen/women. A dedicated NGO session was attempted last year. Some countries spoke in support of these changes during the F&A meeting, others opposed. No consensus was reached.
A document based on the UK proposals has now been tabled by Poland on the behalf of the whole EU.
The US reaches for the microphone. Their Commissioner takes a moment to thank Donna (the Australian Commissioner for her work on F&A). The USA supports the presence of observers in F&A but also that it can go into closed session if necessary. We need to evolve our practices on speaking rights, she adds
The Chair next reads out a long list of speakers who are interested in the issue of observer participation.
Argentina thanks Donna for her report. It has been said many times – as in the opening statement from the Buenos Aires Group (BAG) of countries – that we need to improve transparency. Israel too would like to bring the IWC in line with other organisations.
Iceland – we represent civil society in our country. It is often said that we do not here represent civil society but we do. We are not in favour of support NGO participation in the meetings. Various countries speak in a rather predictable manner in favour or against NGOs. A selection follows.
Colombia wishes to hear from all players.
Denmark says that we have seen this morning how fanatical some NGOs can be. They are not accredited NGOs here but this is the reason for treatment of NGOs here. We need to be convinced; a revision such as the one you have here – 3 points with 3 sets of NGO interventions would be acceptable.
Monaco has been looking at the division of time here and says that we are offering only some 2.5% of time to civil society; let us offer a fuller participation.
The UK minster respects the Chairman’s decision to take the EU proposal later but this issue needs to be taken as part of a package on governance… it is essential to adopt this package as a whole. On the issue of NGO participation this was part of our (UK) original proposal, now modified. Our package is about governance, not whales and we hope that our proposal attracts support from all members. The proposals here should at least bring us into line and EU proposals should be accepted by consensus. I have made these changes to allow for this and I am grateful to colleagues from the EU to allow this. We have been willing to compromise but the package is still the bare minimum. We need to show the world that the IWC is a functional body.
Ghana: shall we speak here about paying contributions.
No says the Chair, and he stresses that he has ended the list. The F&A report has concluded that there was no consensus on observers and there was already considerable debate about this in that committee. Meanwhile it is still raining in Jersey and in Belgium.
We next enter that part of the F&A report that deals with subscriptions from developing nations. Several countries stress how important this is to them.
But first a little light lunch and lobbying in those famous margins.