What will come out of the G8?
Past summits made empty promises. Will this one be different?
Tony and Georges, Jacques and Gerhard, Vladimir and Silvio, Junichiro and Paul, and also José from the EU, will all get together in Gleneagles, Scotland this coming week, 6-8 July, to show the world they are dealing with the pressing issues of the world. Usually they like to show that they are all good buddies, at least on the personal level, even if they have some differences on policy. But will Jacques, Gerhard and José be nice to Tony on his home turf after the bitterness of the failed EU summit? Ritual handshakes on the front steps with forced smiles for the cameras? We’ve seen it all before! The G8 began (as the G6) in France 30 years ago, after the first oil shock, with the idea that the leaders of the strongest economies should try to reach consensus on some of the ‘big picture ‘ issues facing the world. Today, it has become a major media event. The Summit communiqué is negotiated in advance by the ‘Sherpas’, the top advisors who accompany the leaders to the summit. Between summits, there are meetings of Finance Ministers (meeting as the G7 without Russia), as well as Employment and other ministers. But the track record on implementation of promises made at the summits is not strong. Take the example of the commitments on Life-Long Learning made at the Cologne summit in Germany in 1999. Education Ministers discussed them in Tokyo the following year when it was Japan’s turn to host the G8, but that was about the end of it. The Cologne commitments faded into history. Tony Blair says he wants this G8 to be different. One technique he is using is to insist as Chair that the summit focus on two issues: Africa and climate change. He has traveled to several G8 countries recently to prepare the ground. Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor and the PM’s heir apparent, has worked hard on the key issue of debt relief and financing of the MDGs. The UK’s Africa Commission, chaired by Blair, has set out the case for a fair deal on debt, aid and trade. Several African leaders have been invited to Gleaneagles, following an example first set by Jacques Chirac in Evian, France, three years ago. Two days ago he met trade union leaders from the G8 countries. (EI was there: see news item dated 30 June 2005). The public mobilization to Make Poverty History is unprecedented. Those attending the rally in Edinburgh today represent millions of people around the world joined symbolically by the White Band Movement. But how is the G8 shaping up substantively? The G7 Finance Minister’s announcement on cancellation of debt for 18 of the poorest countries is an important step forward, and will help education in those countries. Oxfam and the Jubilee movement have, however, pointed to the pitfalls in the details and the need to go further. (See also the circular from the EI General Secretary of 29 July). George Bush has announced a doubling of US aid for Africa. But the Democratic opposition in the US claims he is just re-pledging funds already announced for action on HIV/AIDS, vaccinations and education. There is a real risk that everyone will agree on the need for action, but disagree on the kind of action. The UK’s proposal for an International Financing Facility is opposed by the US. France, supported by Spain, Chile and other non G8 members, favours an international tax on airline travel. The US opposes this idea, and also opposes proposals to sell some of the IMF’s gold reserves. The US also pours cold water on the target of 0.7% for GDP for aid, adopted long ago at the United Nations, to which several countries have recently made renewed commitments. Yet, the amount involved for the US, around US$ 80 billion a year, is about the same as what the US is currently spending on Iraq! So the world will be watching and waiting as the media show in Gleneagles is beamed around the globe. Hopefully, the leaders gathering there will display great wisdom and work together on a shared vision and a collective will to commit their governments to an agreed course of action. Hopefully they will rise above narrow national and political interests. In a word, hopefully they will show leadership. Even if, as we hope, the G8 leaders reach agreement on an effective course of action that will be welcomed by the rest of the world, each country must then live up to the promises it makes. Given the past track record, that is expecting a lot. The mobilization to Make Poverty History is just beginning. It must be maintained until the promises are carried out and the slogans become reality. Bob Harris Chief Consultant to the General Secretary