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Explaining G8 Effectiveness in the Approach to the New Millenium

Professor John Kirton
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

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1. The G7's Growth as a New Millenium Institution

The most visible sign of the G8's emergence as the centre of global governance for the new millenium is its recent institutional development, in membership, agenda, ministerial and official level involvement, and domestic engagement. Increasingly, the G7 is coming to resemble the inner cabinet of the global polity, compactly including all globally oriented countries, embracing the full public policy agenda, and engaging the multilateral international bureaucracies, and most ministries of national government at the ministerial and official level. It is thus uniquely tailored to deal with the intensifying linkages across the global agenda and between processes at the international and domestic levels.

The first dimension of institutional growth is the G7's expanding membership and participation. There is a clear logic to the G7's membership, which has been manifest virtually without exception during the institution's first twenty-four years. As a classic concert it includes only, and all of, the world's major powers (Kirton 1993, 1989). As a modern concert those major powers must have durable market economies and democratic polities, despite the diversity of particular forms they display. Finally, G7 membership and market democracy are forever, as the G7 will maintain the inclusion and power of embattled members, but act collectively to ensure that they do not depart from their market-oriented democratic core. Today's often touted prospective entrants - China, India, Indonesia, Brazil - will only be admitted if and when in the still distant future they become durably market-oriented, democratic major powers, and thus acquire the fully systemic perspective, sense of responsibility and capacity to contribute which flows from these attributes.

Such coherence at the core has allowed for creative ways of associating outsiders, and thus enhancing the legitimacy and effectiveness of G7 governance. While the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia were denied admission in their own right in the initial years, the former two were represented, along with other European democratic market middlepowers through the head of the European Commission/Union in 1977 and subsequently through their Prime Ministers when their Presidency of the Commission/Union and the annual Summit coincided. 1989 inaugurated a process of summit dialogue with leaders of major developing countries, first with the new G15 which dined with the G7 at the opening of the Paris Summit of the Arche and subsequently in 1993 when the leaders of host Japan and the US met on the eve of the Summit with Indonesia's Suharto, then head of the still functioning "Non-Aligned" Movement. The 1996 ad hoc Moscow nuclear safety summit (and 1994 Winnipeg Ministerial) brought Ukraine in for the moment. Lyon in 1996 saw a post summit G7 lunch with the leaders of the world's four major multilateral organizations and the 1998 London finance ministerial repeated the formula for the IMF, IBRD, and WTO. Michael Camdessus's May 1998 proposal for a meeting every two years of the G7 with the IMF's G-24 presents a promising proposal for future participation. In addition their are a host of pre and post Summit consultations with wider constituencies and many G7 created bodies - from missile technology control to the global information society - that have quickly expanded to include a wider group.

Future alterations in the current membership are likely to be slow and incremental. Although Birmingham will mark the birth of the full G8, it will also mark a continuation and strengthening of the existing G7, whose leaders are scheduled to meet, when they are fresh, immediately before the G8 officially opens, for a serious treatment of the new international financial architecture, the Japanese and G7 economies, Ukraine, and Russia itself. While some see the inclusion of Russia and EMU as leading to a new G3, the residual relevance of Britain and Canada, the operation of the 16 year old trade ministers Quadrilateral, and the need to mobilize continental European leaders and finance ministers to contain the new financial crisis of Asian dimensions casts severe doubt on this easy conclusion. The collapse of Indonesia, concerns about China on several dimensions and the difficulties faced by the UN Security Council about which and how many new members to include provide strong support for the status quo. At the same time, one can look to more regular dialogues with multilateral organizations and new ways to include important constituencies, such as central and Eastern Europe through the EU, and APEC through the G7's four Pacific members.

With expanding participation has come a proliferating G7 agenda. The G7 began with a focus on both economic and political issues and the relationship between the two as the 1970's challenge of "stagflation" and the ensuing "crisis of governability" required an integrated high level response. The Summit soon added transnational security threats such as terrorist aircraft hijacking and regional security threats from ever more distant reaches of the globe. The past decade has witnessed a much expanded array of transnational issues - with the global environment, infectious disease and international crime added. At the same time - topics once considered entirely domestic - employment, pension plans, education, social security nets, welfare reform - have arisen to occupy centre stage. With this trend, and the decision of the British hosts to make employment and crime two of the three core subjects at Birmingham - the G7 has become an important global centre for domestic governance.

A proliferating G7 agenda has brought a deepening of G7 institutions. At the ministerial level the three stand-alone G7 forums born in the 1980's - for trade in 1982, foreign affairs in 1984 and finance in 1986 - all dealt with classically international issues. Those of the 1990's - the environment in 1992, employment in 1994, information in 1995 and terrorism in 1995 all deal with more classically domestic matters. 1997-8 has added ministerial meetings for small and medium enterprise, crime and energy. To support these and other G7 networks there has emerged dozens of official level working groups that often operate beyond the detailed knowledge or control of the G7 sherpas. Taken together, G7 co-operation now engages a strong majority of the departments of member governments, giving the G7 system a degree of domestic engagement it never previously exercised. With the direct involvement of major corporations in the GIS and energy ministerials, and other non-governmental organisations in the SME and environment ministerials, domestic engagement is starting to extend to civil society actors.

This institutional dynamism shows few signs of being contained, despite the concerns of those see the "bureaucratization" of the Summit as contradicting the forum's seminal purpose and precious feature of political control by democratically and popularly elected heads of state and government. Indeed, while Birmingham will respond to this never before realized ideal of Rambouillet, by having leaders meet alone without attending finance and foreign ministers, those ministers met alone and jointly in London the previous weekend, both to deal with their own lengthy agenda and to prepare the core items the leaders will discuss. The new format has led G7 foreign ministers to look with some favour on going beyond their one meeting a year (in September) to a more frequent (probably twice a year) schedule. The innovative format of Birmingham has thus significantly expanded the institutional capacity of the G7, creating, at least for some officials required to service both weekend gatherings and seek to maintain coherence between the two, a full ten days of G7 summitry in 1998..

Institutionalization, however, does not point to organization. Although not all G7 ministers are popularly elected, the expansion of the ministerial system has reinforced the key feature of political control. The G7's one small foray into creating an organization of its own - the Support Implementation Group in Moscow - has now ended. And despite occasional pleas by outsiders there is no desire to create a G7 Secretariat. Future energies will concentrate on improving the coherence and political control of the maze of G7 working groups, and developing networks, perhaps at times involving civil society actors, to perform tasks conducted by intergovernmental organizations in an earlier age. Such a model makes the G7 well adapted to a world in which the single authority centres of old are being supplemented by others in a more multi-centred, interactive world.

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