Definition: ‘Issue linkage’ refers to the simultaneous negotiation of multiple issues in the same process. Linkages can be both a helpful tool and a barrier for reaching agreement.
Benefits: When helpful, issue linkage forms the basis of quid-pro-quos where parties make concessions on issues that are of lesser importance to them in order to extract concessions from parties on issues of higher importance. Such quid-pro-quos, or package deals, can leave all parties better off and make the deal more durable. Risks: Issue linkage can be a barrier for reaching agreement when a particular issue proves unresolvable and blocks progress on other issues. When this happens, it may be preferable for parties to ‘delink’ the unresolvable issue from the agenda in order to be able to reach agreement on other issues. Barriers While issue linkage can form the basis of quid-pro-quos and package deals there are several barriers to success. Challenges include:
- Increased complexity: The addition of more issues to the agenda will tend to exponentially increase the complexity of negotiations and – accordingly – the need for information and capacity among parties and facilitators. When information and capacity are insufficient the complexity may obscure solutions and even hinder agreement.
- Issue-cycling risks: Issue linkages increase the risk that the negotiation agenda and discussions will continue to shift depending on each actor’s preferred focus. In such cases, progress on one issue can become contingent on progress on other issues, causing ‘chicken-and-egg’ situations to arise.
- Hostage-taking risks: Issue linkages can increase the risk that parties will misrepresent their preferences for tactical purposes. A party may stick to its position on an issue, even if that issue is not significant to its own interests, in order to extract concessions from partners on more important issues.
Be aware that quid-pro-quo proposals can backfire
Identifying potential quid-pro-quos
- As a facilitator, do not to push hard for quid-pro-quos that may be unacceptable to parties. Facilitators are ultimately restricted by parties’ preferences and controversial or daring proposals can cause upsets.
- Be aware that quid-pro-quos may be interpreted, and deliberately labeled, as unethical, and that this can damage the reputation of those who propose or support the quid-pro-quos, including facilitators. This in particular may be the case where the linkage involves economic or financial issues. Facilitators should therefore consult and consider carefully before proposing or supporting quid-pro-quos.
- In order to minimize issue cycling, sequence negotiations and closing of sub-agreements in a manner that assures different parties that their interests are not forgotten. When necessary, assure parties that they can come back to particular issues later and that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.
- Keep a systematic record of parties’ preferences, both officially declared and privately communicated, for each issue under negotiation. Such a “matrix of preferences” can be helpful in identifying opportunities for issue linkages in complex settings.
- Maintain a high degree of impartiality and avoid perceptions of bias.
- Increase the costs of hostage-taking by exposing the parties that are blocking progress for tactical reasons.
- Be aware that the potential for using linkages to promote agreement is generally higher where parties have different preferences across issues and attach different importance to those issues.
- Shifting the negotiation mode away from positional bargaining to focusing on the parties’ underlying interests can help identify potential linkages.
- Seek to understand how parties rank the different issues under negotiations in terms of importance and investigate potential quid-pro-quos.
- Use privileged knowledge of different parties’ preferences in order to identify potential quid-pro-quos or consider delinking of unresolvable issues.
- Consider how potential gains from quid-pro-quos can be distributed in order to minimize parties’ issue-cycling and hostage-taking of issues.
Most negotiations involve multiple issues and linkages are the rule rather than the exception. Accordingly, there are several examples of both successful and failed issue linkage:
1. Identifying potential quid-pro-quos
[Some example from outside the UNFCCC – we can always find one in Sebenius 1982]
2. Agenda management: The Kyoto Protocol negotiations
The 1995-1997 negotiations that led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol spanned multiple issues, included emissions reduction targets, whichat greenhouse gases and sectors to address, and international trading in emission credits. Because the outcome on each individual issue would impact parties’ benefits from outcomes on the other issues – and perhaps for tactical purposes – parties continuously shifted discussions from one issue to the other. The US stated that its national target would depend on what sectors and gases were included; the EU stated that sectors and gases were contingent upon targets; and vulnerable island country Samoa asking for parties to provide specific numbers (ENB, 1997b). During the final plenary session, the facilitators overcame the issue cycling by carefully sequencing negotiations by the interests of different actors. Issues were discussed in a step-by-step manner where the different negotiation parties obtained preferred outcomes in turn and were assured that ‘nothing was agreed until everything was agreed’. With this approach on the final night, the facilitators were able to essentially knit together a grand package deal – the Kyoto Protocol – that left parties better off than their best alternatives.
3. Backfire: “We are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future”
At COP15 in 2009 an attempted quid-pro-quo involving the issue of financial transfers from developed to developing countries failed when a small group of vulnerable developing countries rejected a draft agreement tabled by the Danish Presidency, even though the agreement offered them the prospect of 100 billion per dollars year by 2020. The representative of Tuvalu stated: “(…) And we see there is money put before us. Can I suggest, in biblical terms, it looks like we are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future. Mr. President, our future is not for sale”. This rejection, which was made in public and cast the proposed quid-pro-quo as highly unethical, weakened the reputation and room for maneuver of the Presidency.