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Regional Voices in Global Governance: Changing the G-8? (Part III)

Editor’s Note: As more nations are included in the G-8 process, many are questioning what the future of the forum may be. In the third part of his series, Lex Rieffel looks towards the changing dynamics of Italy’s July Summit — and what lies beyond for Great Britain and the Obama Administration.

The G-20 Summit in Washington in November 2008 clearly represented a breakthrough in global governance, prompted by a global crisis as has so often been the case.

The Europeans — especially President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown — deserve the credit for convening a global summit to focus on the crisis

The decision to start with the G-20 FM/CBG in designing the Washington Summit at least reflects the U.S. government’s grudging acceptance of the broad international consensus that the G-8 Summit process has outlived its usefulness. The relatively quick and easy agreement to follow up with a similarly designed London Summit in April 2009 underscores the shift away from the G-8.

The G-8 Summit process was already morphing to include more “new powers.” In particular, at the 2007 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, the participation of five leading emerging market countries (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa) was semi-formalized.

In other words, it was understood that these five countries would be invited to future G-8 Summits. However, they were not accorded the status of full “members,” which led to the media spin that they were just being invited to join in the coffee breaks.

Despite the move toward a G-20 forum at the Washington and London Summits, the G-8 Summit process is still alive for several reasons.

The simplest reason is that Italy has been preparing for years to host the 2009 Summit (in July, on La Maddalena, a small island north of Sardinia). It would be a gross affront to Italy to “pull the plug” on this summit.

A second reason for not abandoning the G-8 Summit now is that a consensus does not exist among the “old powers” and the “new powers” on who to include in a broader global governance forum to replace the G-8.

While there are passionate advocates of the “simple” solution of adopting the G-20 FM/CBG geometry, strong arguments in favor of different — and generally smaller — configurations have been advanced in recent years.

The issue is coming to a head, and the position of the United States will be critical. Despite the wounds it has administered to itself over the past eight years or more, no other country has a better claim to be the world’s leader.

Moreover, the election of President Barack Obama has captured the world’s attention and given him immense personal influence in the international arena.

taly has an unenviable task. Its narrow national interests strongly favor preserving the primacy of the G-8 Summit.

It clearly understands, however, that the success of the July Summit depends in large part on having the “new powers” participate meaningfully — even if not accorded the formal status of full members.

Italy has also seen how difficult it is to hold the line against pressures to add participants.

To the surprise of many outside experts, it turned out that participation in the Washington Summit was not limited to the members of the G-20 FM/CBG process. The leaders of Spain, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic managed to shoehorn themselves into the meeting.

No official announcement has been made about whether the leaders of these three countries will be at the Summit on La Maddalena or not, but it would be remarkable if Italy musters the courage to exclude them.

For a while, question marks also existed over the participation of the six countries that are members of the G-20 FM/CBG forum but are not in the five-country Heiligendamm group: Argentina, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. At the beginning of March, however, Prime Minister Berlusconi announced that “we will have the G-20 as well on the third day”.

Just the month before, in elaborating on Italy’s concept of “variable geometry”, Prime Minister Berlusconi added Egypt to the list of Summit participants “to represent the Arab, Muslim and African world”.

In short, the G-8 Summit in July will involve even more global leaders than the November 2008 Summit in Washington and the April 2009 Summit in London.

End of story? Will the G-8 Summit have morphed into the G-20 Summit? Maybe and maybe not.

We need to look over the horizon to the future meetings that are penciled into the calendars of the G-8 Summit and the G-20 FM/CBG forum.

The United Kingdom is hosting the London Summit in April because it is the chair of the G-20 FM/CBG forum for 2009 according to the pre-arranged rotation. The past rhythm for this forum has been for the Ministers and Governors to meet once a year in November.

Surely, the United Kingdom will not want to give up its turn to host the G-20 this coming fall. Nor is it likely to let the level of participation revert to finance ministers and central bank governors.

Even if the world economy is firmly on the road to recovery by then, Prime Minister Brown will want to seize the opportunity to make progress on other pressing global issues such as climate change.

Depending on the agenda, however, participation in the fall 2009 G-20 Summit might be adjusted a bit. Why? Because by the summer, the United States may have concluded that a somewhat different geometry is better, especially one in which Europe is not so over-represented.

And the United States is likely to work in partnership with the United Kingdom to begin moving toward a better-balanced forum.


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