Those making up the briefing books for this week's 15th annual Economic Summit probably wished they had had a little more time before closing off the pages giving background on the leaders of the seven summit countries. It's not unusual for the leaders to be facing political difficulties at home when they go off to the summit. But this year, these difficulties put in question the very identity of some participants - at least those from Japan and Italy.
Japan's Prime Minister Sousuke Uno, facing a barrage of charges involving personal conduct, will attend the Paris gathering and it's likely Italy's Ciriaco De Mita will be there, although this week there still was talk that a former prime minister and summit veteran, Giulio Andreotti, may represent Italy.
While political unrest in the other summit nations isn't as fierce as in those two, Britain's Margaret Thatcher and West Germany's Helmut Kohl are also facing sharp criticism at home over economic policy.
It's likely, therefore, that this year's assembly of the mighty, which for many Parisians will be merely a supporting act to the bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution, will stress international co-operation.
All the leaders know the summit is a chance to gild their image back home, and their common political bond will no doubt influence them to downplay friction. Indeed, French President Francois Mitterrand is aiming to have the meeting known as the ''unity'' summit.
It matters not whether it's the desire to show statesmanship for the benefit of the folks back home that moves the leaders to agreement; the key is that these affairs produce more than statements of good intent. In this respect, there is the possibility that the leaders will target on an agreement on the environment that will move each country a little further along the anti-pollution path.
About one third of the summit communique is expected to deal with environmental concerns. Canada has taken the lead in this, although the U.S. has co-opted the issue. This is the usual course with the Americans; when a summit issue strikes a responsive chord, the U.S. makes it its own. No matter, the important thing is that the leaders collectively recognize the need to co-ordinate environmental policies.
To show they mean business, the leaders should endorse the initiative of the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development at its meeting last month on the need to ''improve the protection and management of the environment, particularly through the better integration of economic and environmental decision-making.''
To show example on this issue, the leaders could pledge their countries to set and work toward targets for the control of certain pollutants. They should also support previous proposals for a world conference on the greenhouse effect, and agree to press the World Bank and other international lending agencies to recognize environmental concerns when loans are negotiated. What better way to show that this is a ''unity'' summit, than to achieve unity of purpose on the environment?
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Revised: June 3, 1995
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