There is a tendency in international circles to consider the G8 to be “passé”. There’s talk of a G13/14, a G16, and of course a G20. The argument is that these formats are the most representative in terms of economic, demographic and “civilisation” profiles because they include Africa, for example, and large, mainly Muslim countries such as Indonesia.
However, numbers are one thing, the G8’s working method, another.
As regards the number of participants, the Italian approach to the G8 takes this debate into account. More specifically, the summit at La Maddalena will be a clear illustration of a variable geometry structure based on the dossier under consideration. The Summit already diverges from the traditional G8 format, since the involvement of different actors at different stages goes further than the idea of a simple “G8+”. After an initial meeting of the “historic core” group of countries (the traditional G8), the agenda will essentially be discussed together with the G5 countries (India, China, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico), which are considered as host and not simply guest countries. Egypt will also be taking part, with the meeting opened up to a representative group of African countries as well.
This said, I believe that the method of the “G8 type” meetings is at least as important as the number of countries involved. From this point of view, I feel that the G8 still has something to teach us. Its flexibility has enabled us, and will do so increasingly in the future, to take a creative approach to the relationship between structures, functions and goals. It is policy goals, more than anything else, that should suggest the formats (structures), starting in any case with a “founding group” (that includes the G8, extended to the G5). The guiding role played by this core group remains essential. In this respect, the G8 should not be turned into a generic and fluctuating “GX”.
The G8 of the future will have a strategic function in terms of “support” for global governance as implemented, in both economic and policy terms, by the institutions (IMF, World Bank, WTO, United Nations). Essentially, it will be more similar to a “pre-negotiating” forum examining dossiers of global relevance than to an elitist “World Government”. Its aim will be to encourage and accelerate the decision-making process in international organisations. This “functional” group will be inclusive rather than exclusive, and will serve common causes of global relevance. In other words, the G8 will increasingly come to resemble an initiative and pressure group working to achieve global consensus. So, a Global Consensus Group (GCG). Participation in the Group’s proceedings should be more than merely “a seat at the table”: it should respond first and foremost to principles of responsibility and accountability.
As an “evolution” of the G8, the GCG will be a place to exercise “decision-making democracy” at the global level. This will allow opinions to be compared and discussed, proposals to be examined, and the priorities on the global agenda to be discussed with a view to formally examining and possibly adopting them in multilateral or regional fora. The difference with respect to other universal-participation networks, such as the UN General Assembly, lies in the possibility for a limited number of countries to develop and further analyse individual issues – without this preventing them from being representative of a wider international context.
The GCG’s “competences” could include questions regarding, for example, economic-financial issues on the global agenda, as well as political or security questions. We should not, however, rule out the possibility of it addressing questions of political-international relevance as well, especially those regarding serious crisis situations or security initiatives in the wider sense. From this perspective, the GCG should also deal with global security issues, i.e. all those multiple, diverse factors that, taken together, pose a challenge to world security (for example, climate change, desertification and mass migration; mobility and the risk of pandemics; the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their availability to terrorist groups; the question of the “clash of civilisations” in relation to religious radicalism, etc).
The important thing is for the “evolved” G8 not to be linked just to emergency situations or erratically changing requirements for inclusion, but for it to respond to real political-economic needs in a rapidly changing world.
by Franco Frattini
Latest update: 02/04/2009