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Analytical Studies

Impressions of the Genoa Summit, 20-22 July 2001
(Final Version, 28 July)

Sir Nicholas Bayne, G8 Research Group


The Genoa summit was the target of violent riots, which left one dead, over 200 injured and $40 million of damage.  The riots obsessed the media, who claimed the G8 leaders themselves achieved little and that summits in this form could not survive.  But though preoccupied with the causes and consequences of the riots, the leaders in fact launched some important initiatives. If these are fully implemented – a big if - Genoa may prove one of the most influential summits.

Only G8 heads of government came to Genoa 2001, maintaining the practice begun at Birmingham 1998.  G7 finance ministers had met on 7 July and G8 foreign ministers on 18-19 July, both in Rome, and issued reports and conclusions, considered further below.  At Genoa itself, the G7 leaders met on the first afternoon and issued a statement.  They were then joined by Rusian President Putin and UN Secretary General Annan for the announcement of the Global AIDS and Health Fund.  At dinner the G8 met leaders from developing countries, mainly from Africa, and the heads of other international institutions, including WHO, World Bank and WTO.  The main G8 agenda occupied the second day, with the issue of the usual communique. 

Though Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi was new in office, he had chaired a summit before – at Naples in 1994.  He wisely kept on the sherpa team that had been responsible for the preparations under his predecessor Amato.  The Italian Presidency strove to maintain continuity with last year's Okinawa summit and to limit the Genoa agenda to three precise themes – poverty reduction, global environment and conflict prevention.   This enabled the documents issued by the leaders to be kept commendably short: G8 communique of  3,300 words on five pages; G7 statement of 1,800 words on six pages; and four more statements of a page apiece.   The full summit documentation, however, is much more copious: three reports from G7 finance ministers; four statements from G8 foreign ministers; texts on the new Global AIDS and Health Fund; and reports from the Task Forces on information technology (the DOTForce) and renewable energy. 

This was the first G8 summit for US President Bush II and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi.  Though he clashed with Chirac at times, Bush found the summit a useful platform for putting his views across, probably more useful than he had expected.  His frank and open manner seems to have gone over well.  Koizumi too proved a livelier summit participant than most Japanese leaders. Blair for the UK and Chretien for Canada had both been recently re-elected.  Blair was very active, especially on Africa, and worked well with Bush.  Chretien attracted interest because of what Canada would be doing at next year's summit.  Chirac (France) was outspoken and individualistic, as usual, though Schroeder (Germany) made little obvious impact.   Prodi (European Commission) seemed in shock because of the riots, while Verhofstadt (Belgian Presidency) was talkative but inexperienced.

The Violent Demonstrations

The policy discussions were inevitably distracted by the riots in the streets.  Genoa was an awkward city for security.  The G8 delegations and media were isolated in the ‘Red Zone' round the port, many being lodged on board ship.  A wider ‘Yellow Zone' was meant to keep protesters at a safe distance.   A massive police presence, ugly physical barriers, deserted streets and boarded-up shops made Genoa look like a city under siege, even before the riots began. 

Large crowds of demonstrators – estimated at anything between 70,000 and 200,000 - descended on Genoa and were lodged in tented camps around the city.  The great majority were peaceful demonstrators, lobbying on issues like debt forgiveness, action on AIDS or the environment.  But there were a substantial number of obstructive protesters, trying, for example, to break police cordons by force of numbers, and of destructive activists, seeking violent confrontation with the police. On the first day, one protester was killed during ugly clashes with the police.  Confrontation continued in central Genoa on the second day, with cars burnt and shops sacked and looted, though elsewhere some mass demonstrations passed off peacefully.  At midnight that day the police raided, without a warrant, the headquarters of the Global Social Forum, the Italian umbrella body for peaceful protest groups.  They claimed to have found members of the anarchist ‘Black Bloc' being sheltered there, well as illegal arms. 

The violence was roundly condemned, however, by responsible international NGOs, like ‘Drop the Debt' and Medecins Sans Frontieres.  They realised that confrontational protests could never influence G8 decisions in the way the peaceful marches of Jubilee 2000 had done at Birmingham 1998 and Cologne 1999. 

The leaders were shocked by the violence and issued a statement regretting the death.  They closed ranks in insisting that violent riots must not prevent them from meeting.  But some – including Berlusconi – were uneasy that the leaders of eight rich countries seemed isolated in an ivory tower.  The leaders spent several sessions discussing ideas to make the summits more acceptable and less a focus for protest.  This included ideas such as: 

As this account will show, non-G8 countries and NGOs have already become deeply involved in summit preparations and follow-up. 

Issues at the Genoa Summit

The G7 Meeting and Statement

The main issues discussed by the G7 leaders, before Putin arrived, were: the world economy; and  Africa , in preparation for their meeting with African leaders over dinner.  The G7 statement covers economic prospects, a new trade round, strengthening the financial system and debt relief, plus a sentence welcoming the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  Some of these issues, however, were not actually discussed till the following day.

Economic Prospects.  Following previous practice, the finance ministers had not issued a statement on this from their pre-summit meeting, but had briefed the press in surprisingly optimistic terms. Since then, Greenspan had said the US economy had touched bottom, but was not yet recovering, and the crisis had deepened in Argentina.  Even so, the leaders expressed confidence in a future recovery and support for Koizumi's strategy in Japan.  Berlusconi, as G8 chair, had received a letter from President de la Rua about the measures taken in Argentina. Berlusconi and Chirac both said publicly that a reply was sent promising that the G8 would provide more help if these measures did not work. However, the wording of the G7 statement is more guarded. 

Trade and the WTO.  The G7 statement contains a strong passage in which the heads ‘engage personally and jointly in the launch of a new ambitious Round' in the WTO. The statement responds well to the concerns of developing countries, but avoids any impression of the G7 dictating to them. There is no reference to contentious agenda items like labour standards or anti-dumping – these are left for future negotiation in Geneva.  The statement  helpfully associates Japan and Canada with the US-EU agreement achieved at the Gothenburg European Council.  Unlike previous summits' treatment of a new trade round, Genoa reflects a new transatlantic rapport, achieved by EU Commissioner Pascal Lamy and US Trade Representative Bob Zoellick.   This commitment on a new WTO Round is one of the most important results of the summit. 

Strengthening the Financial System.  The statement endorses two reports issued by the finance ministers, one mainly on the multilateral development banks (MDBs) and the other on abuses of the financial system. 

Debt Relief.  The G7 statement endorses the findings of a third finance ministers' report, called Debt Relief and Beyond.   It gives an update on the Enhanced HIPC Programme in the last year, noting that 23 countries have now reached ‘decision point' (as against only nine by Okinawa), leading to overall debt relief of £53 billion.  It then deals with some unfinished business: getting the best use of resources saved by debt relief; helping conflict countries to get into the programme; ensuring debt relief is sustained, leading to a ‘lasting exit'; and getting other creditors to match what the G7 have done.  There is no extension of debt relief itself, so that campaigners for complete debt forgiveness or the reduction of IMF/ World Bank debt (like Drop the Debt) are clearly disappointed.  But they can take some comfort from the fact that this remains an active G7 concern. 

The Global AIDS and Health Fund

Berlusconi and Annan, in the presence of the other G8 leaders, announced the formation of a Global AIDS and Health Fund, with pledges from the G8 countries of  $1.3 billion (plus $0.5 billion from other sources).  Annan welcomed this initiative, as ‘a very good beginning', though he added ‘much, much more is needed' and recalled the UN estimate of $7-10 billion extra spending per year.  But while Annan spoke only of AIDS and implied UN ownership of the Fund, the earlier tension between UN and G8 plans was eased at Genoa, so that the two approaches are now tied together. 

The G8, as their communique makes clear, intend to cover AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, as forecast at Okinawa 2000.  They envisage management by a board of donor and beneficiary countries and ‘specialised organisations,' (which would involve WHO and World Bank as well as the UN).  The G8 are actively seeking contributions from the private sector and the involvement of NGOs at local level; private firms and non-profit bodies would be involved in the Fund's management as non-voting members of the board. The sensitive issues of pharmaceutical patents and pricing are treated by seeking the cooperation of firms in the industry and by invoking the flexibility provided in the WTO's TRIPS agreement. 

Most comment from NGOs criticised the amounts as too small in light of the size of the AIDS epidemic.  Some of this criticism seems wide of the mark.  This fund is not designed to meet all the needs of the AIDS crisis.  It will provide extra financing to be integrated into national health plans, for which recipient countries remain responsible.  It is intended to have the Fund in operation by the end of 2001.  There must be limits to the amount of extra money the target countries could absorb early on; the aim is also to tie the Fund's spending to clear output targets.  The main weakness in the G8 position is that their pledges look like one-time contributions, without any assurance of continuity of funding.   But Bush and Blair, among others, indicated that they would be ready to provide more once the Fund was in operation. 

The Outreach Dinner and the Genoa Africa Plan

The leaders had a working dinner on Friday with five African Presidents (Algeria, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa), representatives from El Salvador and Bangladesh and the heads of the UN, FAO, WHO, WTO and World Bank.  The discussion concentrated on Africa and especially the G8 response to the plan for the revival of Africa presented by Senegal and South Africa.  This plan, called the New African Initiative, represents a fusion of the Millennium Africa Plan, promoted by Mbeki of South Africa, with proposals launched by Senegal, the whole being backed by the African Union (the successor to the Organisation for African Unity).  The essential feature of this African plan is its focus on the responsibility of the African countries to put their own house in order, if they hope to attract support from the G8 and other sources of outside help. 

The exchanges led to the issue of a short statement on the ‘Genova Plan for Africa'.  This is a very important initiative, which, thanks to the direct contacts of the G8 with the African leaders, goes much further than expected.  It welcomes the African commitments as ‘the basis for a new intensive partnership between Africa and the developed world'.  It promises help from the G8 both in conflict prevention in Africa and in a wide range of development activities, including health and education, ICT, private investment and international trade.  Each G8 member will designate a personal representative to prepare an Action Plan, under Canadian leadership, for approval at the summit in 2002.   Blair publicly called it a Marshall Plan for Africa. 

This initiative confronts the problems in that part of the world which has gained least from globalisation.  It links in well with other parts of the G7/G8 agenda, both under poverty reduction and conflict prevention.  It is a rare example of the summit finding synergy between the economic and political strands of its agenda.  It reflects the new interest of the G8 leaders in outreach, as suitable for a globalising world and a response to criticisms of exclusiveness.  However, as always, the test of this initiative will lie in the implementation, on both the G8 and the African side.  There is much exhortation to international institutions, but no new G8 commitments, for example of aid funds or trade access.  The G8 have also added another wing to the G8 bureaucratic architecture, despite their claim to want things kept simple. 

The G8 Meetings and Communique: Economic Issues

The G8 spent a full day of meetings on their economic agenda, taking political issues over lunch and the future of summitry over dinner.  Except where their communique confirms commitments already made, eg in health, its content is rather disappointing.  The greater part of the G8 communique is devoted to Poverty Reduction.  It is supported by the report from the G7 finance ministers, Debt Relief and Beyond. This covers trade, investment, health and education, following the lines of the preparatory document of the Italian presidency. 

Trade and the Poorest Countries.  Two brief paragraphs in the G8 communique, on trade access and capacity building, are expanded in the finance ministers' report.  The finance ministers admit that the poorest countries have lost market share, especially because they face high tariffs for their main exports.  As compared with the promises made at Okinawa, however, the actual commitments on market access are uneven.  The EU's Anything But Arms initiative is a real advance.  But the Americans have not moved beyond measures adopted in early 2000 (and initiated back in 1997), while the Japanese and Canadian schemes omit many products of greatest interest to the poorest countries.  Pledges to do better in future thus ring rather hollow.  Similarly, the passages on capacity building are short on commitments on what more the G8 would do themselves, as opposed to coordinating existing actions and encouraging others.

Other Issues in Poverty Reductuion.  The passage on investment is largely exhortation to other international institutions, while health is treated above.  However, education has a bit more substance. The G8 renewed their commitment to helping to meet international educational targets, but could not find an obvious focus for their actions, as they had in health.  They therefore created a task force of officials to work on this over the next year.  Chretien announced his wish to focus on education at the 2002 summit.  There is also a useful cross-reference to the DOTForce report (see below) and an acceptance (by the finance ministers) that ‘additional resources should be provided'.

There was some discussion of expanding aid volumes, with Berlusconi and Prodi invoking the target of giving 0.7% of GNP in aid.  But this does not feature in the communique, which only speaks of  ‘strengthening and enhancing effectiveness' of aid.

ICT and the DOTForce.  The most impressive document issued at the summit was the first report of the Digital Opportunity Task-Force (DOTForce) established at Okinawa to help poor countries benefit from ICT.  This was remarkable both for process and substance.  It was produced by a group combining governments of both G8 and developing countries, international institutions, private firms and NGOs.  Many of the members turned up to present the report and conveyed an impressive sense of common purpose.  The report focused on nine clear and sensible action points, including:

The report contained no estimates of resources needed.  The DOTForce members justified this by saying that their task was to devise the policy environment, within which resources could be deployed.  But the World Bank described their current ICT-related lending; and the Canadian chair of the DOTForce for next year stressed that the next report would focus on implementation. 

This report was a considerable achievement, in the face of great initial scepticism.  The G8 communique endorses the report and renews the DOTForce's mandate.  Hardly any leader drew attention to the DOTForce and its work in press briefings, which suggected some doubt about their personal commitment to it.  However, it  received favourable comment in the leaders' own meetings, as evidence of continuing interest, so that the prospects for the harder task of implementation remain favourable.

Renewable Energy.  The Task Force on Renewable Energy had a similar wide composition to the DOTForce and its report (which was circulated, but not presented) has the same objective of creating the right policy environment.  However, the communique does no more thank the participants for their work, without taking a position on it, remitting further action to G8 energy ministers.  This was because of US opposition: the Americans feared the report would inhibit their national energy strategy.  However, the work is not lost, being remitted to G8 emergy ministers. 

Environment.  The main issue was climate change and the Kyoto Protocol.  All could agree, including Bush, on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to take action to bring this about.  References in the communique to flexibility of policy and cooperation on research look like moves towards the US position. The Americans had indicated that they were working on alternative approaches to the Kyoto Protocol, but these would not be ready till the next Conference of the Parties to the climate change convention (COP7), due in Morocco next year.  The communique implies American readiness to involve others in this process, so that Genoa marks a modest advance over what was discussed between EU and US at Gothenburg.  The summit was also useful in persuading Japan, Canada and Russia to join the agreement being worked out at COP6 at Bonn, even though the Americans stood aside from the progress made there.

Biotechnology and Food Safety.  A brief discussion produced the usual uneasy truce between those who rely on science and the partisans of the precautionary principle.  Blair said the former view prevailed, Prodi said the latter did, though close reading of communique paragraph 30 shows that both views are well recorded.  There is a slight advance as compared with Okinawa, in that France and other Europeans are readier to give weight to scientific evidence; but the US remains sceptical about the precautionary approach.  An earlier passage in the communique (paragraph 20) notes the potential value of  biotechnology for agriculture in poor countries. 

The G8 Meetings and Statements; Political Issues

Outside Africa, political issues had low priority at the summit.  They do not feature in the main G8 communique, but are dealt with in separate statements on the Middle East and Regional Issues.   These in turn relate to the conclusions issued by the G8 Foreign ministers in Rome on 19 July, who also disposed of eleven other regional issues. On the Middle East, the heads briefly confirmed the foreign ministers' unanimous view that the Mitchell Plan was the only way forward and that outside monitoring, as proposed by the EU, could be helpful.  The short statement on Regional Issues covered Macedonia and the Korean peninsula, seeking peace and reconciliation in both. 

Conflict Prevention and Africa.  Conflict prevention was a lead subject for the Italian presidency, who sought agreement to extend the process begun by G8 foreign ministers at Berlin in 1999 and at Miyazaki in 2000.  The foreign ministers at Rome endorsed progress reports on small arms, diamonds, children in conflict, civilian policing and conflict and development and added two new items, on women in conflict and the private sector.  In fact, both the ministers and the leaders seemed more interested in specific cases of conflict, especially in Africa, than in the general concept of conflict prevention, which was not discussed at the summit.  But on balance the Italians should be well pleased with the conflict prevention component of the Genoa Plan for Africa. 

Disarmament.  A long statement by the G8 foreign ministers in Rome avoided open disagreement on missile defence, while Powell (US) and Ivanov (Russia) were at pains to show that they could work together well on other things.  At Genoa Putin (against his officials' advice) decided not to raise the subject among the G8 leaders, so that disarmament is not mentioned in their documents.  Instead, Putin used the summit as the occasion for a fruitful bilateral with Bush, which suggested a deal might be struck linking missile defence with the reduction of  nuclear weapons.


Most of the media comment from Genoa reacted to the riots by advocating changes in the style and process of summitry.  But that is not really the solution to making the G8 summits more publicly acceptable.  Summits will instead be judged by the quality of the agreements reached.  In that respect the Genoa summit provides an excellent example of the strengths and weaknesses of the G7/G8 process, in conditions of advancing globalisation. 

The summit concentrated on issues relating to developing countries, especially the poorest.  This focus on poor developing countries is fully justified.  That is where the main problems of globalisation arise, as well as the worst suffering from conflict and natural disasters.  The Italian choice of topics, especially poverty reduction and conflict prevention, also allowed good continuity between the Japanese and Italian presidencies.  Two of the main achievements of Genoa – the Global Health Fund and the DOTForce report – built on foundations laid at Okinawa the year before.  Though Okinawa has proved less productive in other areas, that justifies a grading of B for last year's summit.  

The Genoa Plan for Africa is the greatest innovation from the summit.  This is the first time the G8 have entered into a specific partnership with a group of non-G8 countries (the only parallel is the G7's commitment to Russia in the early 1990s).   It provides an opportunity to integrate the political and the economic agenda, where the summits have seldom managed to achieve their potential.  There are strong links with many other topics handled by the G7/G8, including debt relief, trade access, ICT, health and education.  The comparison with the Marshall Plan is apt, since the African states, like the post-war European countries, are prepared to take ‘ownership' of their efforts to achieve political and economic revival. 

Genoa also showed how far the G7/G8 have moved in the last two years to involve both private firms and non-profit bodies in summit preparation and follow-up.  This is most vivid in the AIDS and Health Plan and the reports from the DOT.Force and the renewable energy task-force.  But in almost every other economic topic the greater participation of civil society is sought.  This also applies in the political agenda, for example in the two new topics, women and the private sector, added to conflict prevention.  There is a striking contrast between the full involvement of many NGOs in the G8's work and the violent riots on the streets. 

The G8 leaders have begun to accommodate these new actors since they began meeting on their own at Birmingham in 1998.   But at the same time the official apparatus of G7/G8 ministerial and official bodies continues to grow; Genoa added new official groups on Africa and education, a meeting of energy ministers and a conference on climate change.   This gives an impression of a proliferating bureaucracy stifling the summit, which even affects some of the leaders, who hanker nostalgically after a much simpler format.  In fact, the leaders need to give the same freedom of action to the subordinate groups as they have taken for themselves, only giving personal attention to key initiatives like the DOTForce. 

The G7 and G8 agreed in Genoa on some major initiatives designed to help poor countries.  They also reached a vital and very welcome consensus on a new trade round, which resolved differences among themselves, as well as showing sensitivity towards developing countries.  But in other areas, for example in climate change or food safety, Genoa had less success in resolving internal G8 divergences.  It is important not to weaken this capacity, which is one of the main justifications for the summits.   

The most important test for Genoa, and for the G8 process generally, is whether the promises made are honoured.  The recent record shows that the leaders are good innovators but poor implementers.  Genoa will be judged on whether its main commitments bear fruit:

Full implementation of these undertakings would put Genoa very high on the summit grading scale.  But will it happen?  Will the G8 learn from their past mistakes?  In the early 1990s, the G7 leaders similarly ‘engaged personally and jointly' to complete the Uruguay round of trade negotiations in three successive years, only to fail because of disputes over agriculture.  The Denver summit of 1997 also raised expectations on Africa, which were not fulfilled.  In general, the Genoa documents set out clear diagnoses of the problems addressed.  But often the G7/G8 response is not to take new policy measures or to provide new resources, but only to intensify existing actions or to coordinate them better. 

As they prepare for Kanasaskis 2002, the Canadians would do well to give as much attention to the G8 meeting its current commitments as to new initiatives, for example in education.  The G8 now works much more closely with other governments, private business and civil society – that is one consequence of globalisation.  But as a result its performance record comes under closer scrutiny.  It is the failure to keep the promises made that most frustrates campaigning NGOs and helps to turn peaceful demonstrators into obstructive protestors, easily tempted into violent behaviour. 

28 July 2001    

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