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Impressions of the Evian Summit, 1-3 June 2003

Nicholas Bayne
(First Version, 3 June)

The war in Iraq had divided the G8 members right down the middle. The Evian Summit successfully produced a truce among the leaders. But despite the mass of summit documents, prepared in advance, the heads themselves struck few solid agreements to give depth to this reconciliation. The G8 heads had two sessions with non-G8 leaders, extending their outreach. Evian abandoned the simpler format in force since the Birmingham summit of 1998.

This analysis is based mainly on the summit documents, augmented by press briefings.


There was a major innovation in the outreach to non-G8 countries. First, the G8 met a group of leaders from 11 developing countries: China, India, Brazil and Mexico, as major players; Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Senegal and Egypt, as the NEPAD Steering Committee; Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Switzerland was present, as a reward for its close co-operation in summit organisation; Morocco was invited but did not attend; the heads of the UN, IMF, World Bank and WTO were also there. No statement was issued from this meeting; Chirac's comments to the press focused on the informal style rather than the content. Those invited were clearly pleased to be there. Some, especially Hu Jintao of China, took the opportunity for bilateral contacts; others, like Lula of Brazil, spoke at length to the assembled media. But the main interest was in whether such an outreach meeting should become a regular feature of G8 summits. Chirac clearly believed that it should and claimed Blair (summit host in 2005) shared his view. But he was careful not to commit Bush (host in 2004) and the matter remains open.

A more substantive meeting followed between the G8 and the Africans (less Mubarak of Egypt, who had left to prepare to receive Bush on 4 June). This was in fact the fourth time the G8 had met African leaders, starting in Okinawa in 2000. The meeting considered a solid implementation report on the Africa Action Plan agreed to in 2002 - see below. The Africans clearly hoped the G8 would continue to give their continent high priority, but here again the Americans seemed less committed than other G8 members. The outcome was that the G8 will extend cooperation beyond the African personal representatives (APRs) to other OECD countries and there will be a further report by 2005 at the latest. Blair and Schroeder were ready to invite African leaders to the summits they expect to host in 2005 and 2007 respectively. The Americans are uncommitted for 2004 - much will no doubt depend on whether Bush revives his postponed African visit.

From Kananaskis to Evian

The political context for the G8 summit changed profoundly over the year following Kananaskis. The debate over Iraq ranged the U.S., UK, Japan and Italy against France, Germany, Russia and Canada. This divided not only the G8 but also its European members, raising doubts about the future of the transatlantic relationship. Fortunately, the fighting in Iraq was over well before the Summit, allowing attention to shift to less controversial issues of peaceful rebuilding of the country. Just before the Summit, weaker prospects for economic growth, together with the fall of the dollar against the euro, made new demands on the G8 and led Chirac to declare that the Summit should focus on restoring confidence.

These changes did not, however, deflect the course of Summit preparations. The G8 Africa Group continued work with Michel Camdessus (former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund) in the chair, who insisted on keeping it distinct from the main sherpa process. In the run-up to the Summit, there were meetings of G8 environment ministers, development ministers (following a precedent set by Canada in September 2002) and ministers of justice and the interior (chiefly on terrorism issues). These meetings mainly pursued their own agenda, independent of the Summit.

The G8 finance ministers (i.e., including Russia for the first time) met in Deauville on 17 May. The conclusions on growth and exchange rates were insubstantial and there was no advance on the debt relief programme for heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs) - the ministers issued instead a document on Paris Club procedures. A second document focused on improving aid quality, giving prominence to issues of governance stressed by the U.S. G8 foreign ministers met in Paris on 22-23 May and covered conflict prevention and regional issues. The United Nations Security Council had just adopted Resolution 1483 and this provided the basis for agreement on Iraq - G8 ministers themselves added little.

The Players

Exceptionally, the same group of G8 leaders gathered at Evian as had met at Genoa in 2001 and Kananaskis in 2002 (except for Konstantine Simitis for the Greek EU presidency). After the discord on Iraq, everyone was concerned to put the past behind them for the duration of the Summit and looked to future co-operation. The process of personal reconciliation began at a meeting between Bush and Putin in St. Petersburg; they declared their friendship was strengthened by recent troubles. At a bilateral Bush-Chirac meeting in Evian, the body language looked good and Chirac refused to take offence because Bush left the summit early for meetings in the Middle East. Chirac also took opportunities to stress his common ideas with Blair, for example on Africa. Schroeder, Koizumi, Berlusconi and Chrétien were less prominent, but all seemed to mingle and no one appeared discontented or left out.

At his final press conference, however, after Bush had left, Chirac repeated in public points he had made in the meetings about the illegality of the war in Iraq, adding that 'it is easy to make war alone; it is less easy to make peace alone'. This shows that there is no more than a truce between the two.

The Timetable

All the G8 leaders attended the celebrations in St. Petersburg on 31 May and flew from there to Evian. On 1 June, they had a working lunch and a meeting with the larger non-G8 group (see above), followed by a working dinner with the Africans. The G8 proper began on 2 June with a morning session on economic issues. Lunch was devoted to security issues, especially terrorism, and regional problems. The afternoon session (after Bush had left) covered sustainable development. There was a free debate over dinner, with no agenda (by then Blair had also left). On 3 June there was a brief session to agree on the Chair's Summary.

This report goes through the issues roughly in the order they were discussed.


The leaders had on the table a 20-page report from the G8 Africa Group on the implementation of the Africa Action Plan agreed to in 2002. France, the UK, Italy, Canada and the EU had also published their own reports of measures they had taken. The four Africans - Obasanjo (Nigeria), Mbeki (South Africa), Wade (Senegal) and Bouteflika (Algeria) - briefed the press after the meeting.

The main points to emerge were:

The Africans were clearly discontented by the lack of progress over debt relief, for both low- and middle-income countries, and on removing agricultural subsidies and other trade barriers. The main discussion on AIDS took place with the Africans also. On these three issues, see further below.

The conclusion is that NEPAD is still moving forward, although slowly. A nucleus of serious participants is emerging, who could provide an example to others. The G8 effort still seems poorly co-ordinated, but there are signs of a more coherent approach emerging, based on support for good governance and transparency, which are themes that motivate the Americans. It is therefore important for both sides that the G8 and NEPAD continue to work together and to encourage each other.

Economic Issues

In the first session of the G8 proper, the leaders had a lively exchange on growth prospects, with sharing of experience on structural reforms. This exchange was reflected in optimistic language in the Chair's Summary about the revival of growth this year. But while Chirac called this a message of confidence, in fact the G8 leaders did nothing themselves to affect growth. Exchange rates are not mentioned in the Chair's Summary, but Chirac answered questions with the gnomic comment that 'everyone considered exchange rate stability was important to support growth'.

After the session, the G8 issued three declarations: Co-operative G8 Action on Trade; Fostering Growth and Promoting a Responsible Market Economy; and Fighting Corruption and Improving Transparency.


The trade document is a disappointment. It contains general commitments to a successful World Trade Organization meeting at Cancun in September and to concluding the Doha Round successfully on time. There is useful emphasis on capacity building. But there is no advance on the main contested items:

Blair and Chirac told the press that everyone realised that hard decisions would be needed before Cancun. But these decisions were not taken - or even foreshadowed - at Evian.

Responsible Market Economy, Corruption and Transparency

The other two economic documents are linked and are a fusion of French, U.S. and British ideas. They are part of the effort to restore confidence and improve economic performance world-wide. The key elements are:

These proposals depend on voluntary co-operation and rely on existing institutions. The advance was not in the ideas themselves (only the last is really new) but in having agreed G8 positions on them.

Security and Regional Issues

The lunch-time discussion focused on terrorism and on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), with much attention to North Korea and Iran. Seven documents were then issued, comprising:

This extensive documentation is of unequal value. The commitment to capacity building is a new initiative and merits summit attention. The documents on transport security and the Global Partnership are 'work in progress' following up last year's agreements. The plan on radioactive sources (not mentioned in the Chair's Summary) mainly backs up the IAEA. But all this activity stems from U.S. initiatives. The Americans are actively using the G8 process to drive their agenda for action across various fronts, intended to guard against any possible terrorist threats on the model of 11 September 2001. In general, the rest of the G8 have been content to follow the U.S. lead, though there is no sign of the U.S. proposal, reported in the press, to take powers to search ships and aircraft suspected of carrying WMD.

Regional Issues

These are covered concisely in the Chair's Summary. On Iraq, there was no move to disturb the delicate balance of UN Security Council Resolution 1483. On the Middle East, the rest of the G8 welcomed Bush's move to become personally involved in the peace process, based on the 'Road Map'. The G8 also discussed economic support and policy towards Syria. There was concern over drug trafficking from Afghanistan, help promised to Algeria after its earthquake, and a strong message to Zimbabwe on human rights.

Sustainable Development

The afternoon session on 2 June went over some issues already discussed with non-G8 countries, as well as opening up some new ones. There are not many clues to how the discussion went among the heads. But five more action plans were issued, covering health, water, famine, science and technology for sustainable development, and marine environment and tanker safety. Debt and aid are covered in the Chair's Summary.

Most of these items form part of the development agenda.


Bush challenged the rest of the G8 to match his pledge of US$1 billion annually for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (since the U.S. contribution could not exceed one third of the total). The Europeans indicated readiness to see the EU put up another US$1 billion, subject to confirmation at the next European Council. This would leave a third US$1 billion to find from other sources. The Chair's Summary and the action plan have no specific pledges, but confirm support for the Global Fund and the pledging conference due in Paris in July.

The passage on access to medicines goes further than the declaration on trade in directing G8 ministers and officials urgently to establish a multilateral solution before the WTO Cancun meeting. There is rather weak language on research into diseases affecting developing countries, which contrasts with a clear pledge of US$500 million to eradicate polio. The passage on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) stresses the merits of international co-operation in checking the disease.


This topic was given high priority by Chirac in his summit objectives, but the action plan seems rather insubstantial. There are commitments to 'assisting as a priority' countries that pay attention to clean water policy and to 'give high priority in official development aid allocation to sound water and sanitation projects'. But there are no figures given, nor even a promise to increase aid levels. Unlike the U.S. AIDS commitments, the European Commission's proposed 1 billion euro Water Fund has not been used to lever more commitments of finance from others.


This subject was a priority objective for the United States, but here again the action plan lacks bite. Most of it covers familiar issues of emergency relief; long-term food security gets briefer treatment. It notes past spending (over US$3 billion in 2002 for emergency aid and long-term assistance alike). But the most substantial future commitment (also in the Africa Implementation document) is a pledge to reverse the decline in official aid for agriculture.

Financing for Development

The Chair's Summary instructs the finance ministers to do more work on increased resources, including the new International Finance Facility proposed by the UK.

Debt Relief

The passages on debt in the Africa Implementation Report and in the Chair's Summary contain little comfort for the Africans concerned about both low-income and middle-income debt. For the latter, the leaders confirmed the decisions taken by their finance ministers on the Paris Club. On HIPC debt, a long paragraph in the Summary confirms the G8 members have met their Kananaskis pledge to replenish the World Bank Trust Fund but offers nothing more. The Africa document only notes where G8 members have carried out promises of 100% debt relief made back in 2000.

The two remaining topics are more strictly environmental.

Science and Technology for Sustainable Development

The action plan promises co-operation in global observation, in energy technologies, including renewables and in agriculture and biodiversity. The activities mainly rely on existing programmes and institutions and seek to involve developing countries.

Marine Environment and Tanker Safety

The first part of this action plan promotes a range of measures to preserve and manage fisheries and to protect the oceans. The second part advocates actions stimulated by the sinking of the Prestige off the coast of Spain: faster phasing out of single hulled tankers, measures against them transporting heavy-grade oil and guidelines on ports of refuge. Much of the follow-up is to take place in Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Marine Organization.

These two action plans represent the first time the G8 has succeeded in reaching agreement on any environmental topics for several years. As such, it is a welcome advance, on which more could be built in future. But this result is only achieved by avoiding controversial issues, such as European resistance to genetically modified organisms and the U.S. absence from the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change and the Biodiversity Convention. (The Chair's Summary does say, however, that those G8 members that have ratified Kyoto want to see it enter into force - which really depends on Russia.)

Assessment of the Evian Summit

Canada's Chrétien, when asked to name the single best thing that came out of Evian, said: 'It was a good meeting - it could have been a disaster!' Evian was timely as an occasion for reconciliation among the leaders and successfully served this purpose. From now on the G8 heads are talking to each other again. But it is a truce, rather than a lasting peace, and there are plenty of fundamental differences between Chirac and Bush, for example, that will cause tension over the months ahead.

Once the Iraq factor is discounted, Evian shows the same pattern of subject matter that has emerged in the summits of the 2000s. In short:

Part of the purpose of G8 summits is to facilitate direct exchange among the leaders. But another part is reaching agreements among them that could not be reached elsewhere, to show that they have used their meeting well. Despite the record volume of documentation, there were very few agreements at Evian that required the intervention or attention of the heads. The only candidates - two economic and two political - are:

In other areas the leaders endorsed conclusions prepared by their officials, but they added nothing of their own and their authority, although useful, was not essential to further movement. Some topics, like water and famine, were new to the summit, but the results were insubstantial. Others produced results that were worth having, but did not merit the attention of the heads. In short, Evian does not look like a summit that scores very high in advancing co-operation that would not otherwise have taken place.

It is possible that the passage of time will reveal unexpected value in the Evian commitments, for example to promote a successful outcome from the Cancun WTO ministerial. The immediate impact of Evian is muffled by the mass of documentation, where it is always difficult to distinguish new commitments from ongoing ones. The broad agenda and voluminous paperwork are departures from the practice, in force since 1998, of limiting the topics and shortening the papers, so that the heads themselves can concentrate on the key issues. The experience of Evian suggests that the Americans would be well advised to return to the 'Birmingham model' in 2004.

Another procedural aspect of Evian was more constructive - the involvement of non-G8 countries, including China, India, Brazil and Mexico for the first time. The advance of globalization makes it impossible for the G8 to maintain their closed circle, for all its advantages of efficiency and informality. They need to engage other leading players in the international system. The Evian model could work well in future years, with the G8 inviting the four major countries given above, plus a shifting choice of others, to an unscripted meeting either before or after the main G8. This would prevent the G8 being trapped in a standard list of non-G8 guests, who might not all be suitable every year. The continued link with Africa, as noted, is still justified. Africa is the most deprived continent; its problems link politics and economics; and NEPAD offers the best hope of revival for years, firmly rooted in African initiative. But the G8/NEPAD link does need better co-ordination of effort at the level below heads of government. Provided that can be put in place, it could be no bad thing if the G8 heads met their African partners only every second year.

In short, the substantive results from Evian were copious in quantity but weak in quality. But the procedural advances were valuable. Above all, the summit served its essential purpose of reconciliation among the G8 leaders. It is clear that the G8 are back on course in pursuing their goal of collective management of the international system, in selected economic and political issues.

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