Following on from his visit to the jointly held G8 and G20 summits in Canada last summer, Professor Hugo Dobson also attended the G8 Summit in May 2011, hosted by President Sarkozy in Deauville, northern France. Below he shares a few observations from the International Media Centre.
The racecourse at Deauville provided the venue for the world’s media at this summit and my home for three days whilst the leaders met a short walk away behind the security cordon set up in this picturesque seaside town. Later this year France will also host the G20 summit in Cannes, southern France. This stands in contrast to last year in Canada where the G8 and G20 summits were held back to back and suggest that we now appear to have emerged from a period of intense summitry since the upgrading of the G20 from the level of finance ministers to a summit meeting of leaders in 2008. Since then the G8 has continued to meet around late Spring/early Summer that is the date it has usually occupied since its creation in 1975; at the same time the G20 met twice a year in 2009 and 2010 creating a ‘Gaggle of Gs’ and a ‘messy multilateralism’. The G summits now appear to have settled in a more streamlined schedule with both meeting once a year, the G8 around May/June and the G20 in November. President Barack Obama has already announced that Chicago will host the G8 in May 2012 (and will no doubt be used to bolster his presidential election campaign), and Mexico will host the G20 in the Autumn of the same year. So, in this respect, the battle of the Gs appears to have been partially resolved.
However, the relationship between the two continues to be unclear in other aspects, particularly in terms of the two summits’ agenda. The G20 was upgraded to the leaders’ level in 2008 in order to address the global economic and financial crisis and a year later at the Pittsburgh Summit was designated as the ‘premier forum for global economic cooperation’. Since then (although the trend had begun some time previously) the G8 has only touched on macroeconomic issues. Instead, issues such as Africa and climate change have dominated its agenda over recent years. However, the G20’s agenda has inevitably begun to expand into these areas of development and climate change.
The feeling of Deauville was that the G8 is a forum still looking for issues to make its own. For example, the first meeting of the e-G8 forum took place ahead of the Deauville Summit and brought together a range of stakeholders such as Rakuten’s Mikitani Hiroshi, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to discuss the future development of the internet as an engine of global economic growth and democratic participation, in addition to a range of related challenges of security, intellectual property and privacy. The G8 placed this as the second item in its final declaration. However, is the G8 really the most appropriate forum for the discussion of these issues? For example, South Korea with the highest rate of broadband penetration and some of the fastest connection speeds in the world should surely be involved in these discussions but is excluded from the G8 (whilst included in the G20 having hosted the most recent G20 summit). Without the right people sat around the table, the G8 will find it hard to make an issue its own and be taken seriously.
Security issues may represent more fertile ground for the G8. Although the G8 was originally known as the ‘economic summit’ and macroeconomic issues were its raison d’etre, it was not long before it began to bring security issues into its discussion in the late-1970s. Since then it has engaged with a range of traditional and non-traditional security issues from nuclear missile deployment to terrorism and women and children’s experience of conflict. At Deauville, the G8 made an uncharacteristically firm and uncompromising statement on Libya: ‘Qadhafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go’. With an ability to make such clear-cut statements, and considering the fact that the G20 has had little to do with security issues so far, the G8 is well positioned to become an informal UN Security Council in the future.
Finally, the promotion of democracy is an issue that has long occupied an important position within the G8 summit process. At the very first summit, the summit leaders declared that they had come ‘together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. We are each responsible for the government of an open, democratic society, dedicated to individual liberty and social advancement. Our success will strengthen, indeed is essential to, democratic societies everywhere’. In lieu of formal membership criteria, these principles have acted as the closest thing. The title of the Deauville Summit’s Declaration - Renewed Commitment for Freedom and Democracy - clearly referenced the G8’s origins as did the commitment to promoting democracy in North Africa and the Middle East.
This trend is something Japan would heartily encourage. Over recent years, the Japanese government has been caught between working to ensure the success of the G20 but not at the expense of the G8, a forum that recognizes its status as a contemporary great power and allows it to be play the uncontested role of Asia’s representative. Since the rise of the more disparate grouping of the G20, Japanese prime ministers have repeatedly stressed these founding principles of the G8 as the ideological glue that keeps it together and justifies its existence. Thus, Japan’s interests and the G8’s strong statements on the promotion of democracy dovetail neatly.
However, what struck several Japan watchers in the international media centre was the fact that Japan’s presence at Deauville was more difficult to discern than at previous summits. This is unfortunate as the world’s attention was squarely placed on Japan and the summit even dedicated its first meeting to the topic of Japan’s natural and nuclear disasters. The resulting declaration stressed the G8 leaders’ solidarity with Japan and confidence in its ability to recover. However, Japanese press briefings were postponed or cancelled and Prime Minister Kan Naoto did not come to the International Media Centre to hold his final press conference like most other leaders, preferring to stay inside the secure zone and have the world’s media come to him. This stands in contrast to previous summits at which the Japanese delegation has made considerable efforts to publicize its press briefings and reach as wide an audience as possible. On the one hand, it will be interesting to see if Japan is more visible at the G20 Cannes Summit later this year and at the G8 Chicago Summit next year. On the other hand, the domestic problems Prime Minister Kan faced upon his return to Japan after Deauville suggest that he will not be representing Japan at these summit and the perennial instability in Japan’s leadership continues. As former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva once quipped, in Japan you say ‘good morning’ to one prime minister and ‘good afternoon’ to another.