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The annual meeting of the leaders of the seven and now eight major industrial democracies routinely arouses a sea of skepticism from the media and other commentators about the practical utility of the G8 forum. Much of this skepticism surrounds the ability of a particular collection of G8 leaders to arrive at timely, well tailored, ambitious agreements during the course of two or three days of private discussion with thousands of media representatives awaiting on the outside. But far more doubts arise over the effect of the G8 as a collective institution inducing its members to fulfill their commitments once the Summit is over, the media have dispersed and the leaders return home to their daily domestic routines. Because the G8 participants are all powerful, autonomous sovereign states whose democratically-elected leaders are driven by differing national interests and domestic demands, there are real limits to how much commitments collectively made at one moment can constrain and induce compliance in national government behaviour in the coming year.
The limited studies available on compliance with G7 commitments indicates that collective commitments do matter - the member countries comply, if weakly, to a greater degree than they otherwise would. Far more importantly, these studies reveal that the degree of national compliance varies widely by country, issue area, and time. The classic study, reviewing compliance with G7 economic and energy commitments from 1975 to 1989, found that Britain and Canada complied the most and the United States and France the least, while compliance was highest with commitments made in the fields of international trade and energy. (1) A more recent study, reviewing the compliance record of the United States and Canada with the G7's sustainable development commitments from 1988 to 1995, suggests that compliance has risen during the 1990's in particular after the Rio Conference of 1992.(2)
How well have each of the G8 members gathering at Denver on June 20-22, 1997 complied with the commitments they made at the 1996 Lyon Summit last year? The question is a critical one, for answers to it will point to areas where Denver needs to undertake remedial action, how much credibility this year's participants bring to the table, and whether the products of the Denver Summit, proudly announced at its conclusion, deserve to be treated with any seriousness at all.
Systematically assessing compliance with G7 commitments is a formidable exercise, involving many analytical complexities and heavy data demands. Yet the importance of the task has inspired the G8 Research Group, centered at the University of Toronto, to begin the exercise in relation to the Lyon Summit last year. This paper reports the first preliminary results. It offers a definition of and procedure for identifying "commitments" encoded within the concluding communiqués of the G7 at the leaders' level. It identifies what qualifies as compliant behaviour on the part of participating governments in the following year. It presents a scale for scoring compliance. And as a bases for assessing compliance it specifies (in Appendix A) the 19 priority or "major" commitments - from each issue area addressed by the Summit - made by the G7 at Lyon last year.
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