Research Director, International Economics, Chatham House
Despite the worst expectations in the weeks before the summit, the G8 gathering in L’Aquila handed over neither a significant outcome nor an embarrassing disaster. Participants seemed pleased with the Italians who were praised for their excellent job in managing the whole choreography and delivering a great party. The Italian organisers must felt relieved, especially as some commentators seemed prepared to support Italy’s expulsion from the G8 on the ground of poor organisational skills and its Prime Minister’s penchant for scandals.
The idea that Italy was risking the expulsion hit the main headlines in the first day of the summit, with no further follow-up. But it is disconcerting and interesting at the same time. It is disconcerting because of the implicit assumption that the G8 membership could be decided on the basis of how efficient a country is in organising a meeting and how effective, and credible, the leadership of the hosting leader is. But the organising country does not equate the entire G8 even if it plays an important role in shaping the summit, and determining its relevance.
It is interesting because it shows how much the issue of architectural change – expansion and even expulsion – is entangled in the G8 process. L’Aquila summit was more than the sum of its parts. As we read in previous entries for this blog, for each day of the summit, a cluster of different leaders were invited for topical discussions on issues ranging from trade to climate to aid. Only on the first day did the G8 meet by itself. During the rest of the programme leaders from all regions of the world turned up for talks on specific topics on the agenda. This ‘variable geometry’, to use the expression coined by the Italian presidency, helped the summit morph from a negotiating forum to a structured dialogue. In this respect L’Aquila was already a post-G8 summit.
This, and the continuation of the Heiligendamm Process, that features the G5 – China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico – in an enhanced dialogue on economic and environmental issues, are L’Aquila’s most significant outcomes. Both bring the issue of governance straight to the core of the G process. Governance was the ‘elephant in the room’, the missing item on the agenda, the key to the dialogue. Italy’s ‘variable geometry’ was an imperfect and temporary solution to the question of architectural change and how to accommodate emerging powers. It was, nevertheless, an improvement from the 2008 G8 in Hokkaido.
Governance and in particular the G8-G20 relation should inform the debate in the year to the 2010 Muskoka summit. In particular, the G8 will need to rethink its position in a world in which it no longer enjoys primacy and where economic power is more diffuse. The view that the G20 should become the forum for global issue is becoming increasingly common. The G8, therefore, is under pressure to shift itself while retaining some relevance. One option would be to turn the G8 into an effective and likeminded caucus of representative democracies, overcoming both internal substantive and less significant differences. This, however, would involve a serious debate on the role of both Russia and the EU.
Of course future developments depend on whether the G20 will keep momentum. Not surprisingly then, the summit in Pittsburgh at the end of September holds the key to the G process. Being the third leaders’ level summit in less than a year and hosted by the US, it will tell whether the G20 has mutated, by then, in an ongoing dialogue, or it is doomed to fail by excessive summitry. It should also provide some indications on how the US Administration intends to bring the G process forward.
Discussing and implementing the governance of the Gs is a fundamental step to inject some legitimacy in the dialogue and to avoid that declarations such as “They [the G8 Leaders] shared a vision of a world economy that is open, innovative, sustainable and fair” sound like nice, but empty words.
Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.