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Impressions of the G8 Evian Summit

John Kirton and Ella Kokotsis, G8 Research Group, June 3, 2003

The 2003 G8 Summit, held in Evian, France, from June 1 to 3, put in a predictably mixed performance, but produced a surprisingly strong possibility for American leadership to define wthe fifth cycle of summitry that lies ahead. Evian restored the bonds of trust between George Bush and Jacques Chirac and among the G8 as a whole, which the United Nations Security Council had destroyed in its spring-time failure over the liberation of Iraq. On this foundation, Evian produced a historically high 207 concrete commitments, across an unusually wide array of policy fields. But its last-minute personal bonding and concrete promises left little time to mobilize any real money or establish major follow-up mechanisms to ensure that these commitments were met.

Major Bonding

The first major, if minimql, accomplishment came at the end of the summit’s first morning. A bilateral meeting ended with Bush calling "Jacques" his "friend" and putting his arm around him as the two walked off. In return Chirac assured the world that Bush was flying off on his Middle East peace mission with the united agreement and weight of the G8 behind the American-crafted peace plan. Further proof that the new mood of unity was real came in subsequent peace and security decisions on North Korea, the next stop on the "axis of evil." Here all G8 members publicly confirmed that they were prepared if necessary to use unspecified "other measures" to deal with a North Korea they deemed to be already violating international law.

Massive Commitment

With the personal bonds restored, a cornucopia of specific commitments flowed in 14 separate communiqués. The Evian Summit produced more 207 specific commitments, an all-time high for the annual G8 summits in their 29 years of life. In the areas where the Evian leaders followed the Kananaskis momentum, they made important advances – on MANPADs in the field of transport security, on radiological terrorism in regard to weapons of mass destruction and on peer review, water, famine and infectious disease on the African front. They also pioneered plenty of promises in new areas, such as a responsible market economy and corporate governance, and revived action on sustainable development and protecting the global environment. Only in regard to the hardcore economic issues, from trade through exchange rates to fiscal and monetary policy and the prospect of inflation, did they do disappointingly little at a time when the global challenges loomed very large.

Meagre Money

On this surprisingly promising foundation, however the Evian G8 leaders added little to ensure that their many promises would actually be kept. Whereas Kananaskis in 2002 had been one of the greatest G8 global fundraisers ever, mobilizing US$27 billion, Evian ended with only one tenth of that amount near at hand. Even the US$3 billion Evian tried to lock in for the global health fund had to await a subsequent European summit and donations from the Japanese, Russians and others, before the pledged and hoped for money would become real. In many other areas, the communiqués frankly noted the need for major new moneys, but failed to identify how, when or from where it would be obtained.

Modest Mechanisms

Nor did Evian institute more than the most modest mechanisms to ensure that its work would be followed up. While it did create a new working group for terrorism and for nuclear safety, it ended with no clear solution to the critical issue of continuing the work of the leaders’ recently appointed African personal representatives. Unusually, amidst its mass of documentation, Evian offered virtually no requests or remits that bound the G8 to return to any issues at its U.S.-hosted summit next year. As the summit’s final communiqué ended without any hint of where or when that summit would be held, the Americans were left with a completely free hand for designing and delivering the summit in their presidential election year of 2004.


To a considerable extent Evian fell victim to the UN-created divisions over Iraq that had proliferated during the first several months of 2003. Those divisions were set aside very late in the Evian preparatory process, indeed only when a UN Security Council Resolution passed with the support of all G8 members the week before the Evian Summit began. Evian was also held hostage to its status as the longest and largest summit ever, extended over five days in two countries with close to one third of the world’s leaders involved. On the whole, this thrust toward outreach was useful and likely to be continued. But it left little time for the G8 leaders to meet alone to freely discuss and decide the many serious issues at hand. It will thus be up to George Bush as host next year to determine if and how the formidable foundation constructed at Evian can be used to forge an edifice for effective G8-centred governance in the years ahead.

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