The Documentation of the G7/G8 System:
2. ASSESSING SUMMIT DOCUMENTATION
A number of observers have commented on the content of summit documents and the extent to which those documents reflect or fail to reflect actual deliberations. Merlini remarks that "distinction will have to be made in the final declarations at the end of the summits between qualifying and routine positions, between matters that have actually been discussed at the summit and matters that have been assigned to the structure ... . [Conversely, w]hile it is essential that the heads of state and government exchange views and concerns, these do not necessarily all have to be listed in communiqués and declarations." G. John Ikenberry laments the "bland official communiqués that paper over dysfunctions in the global economic system, or vague joint commitments to growth and prosperity that substitute for actual accord."21
Garavoglia and Padoan recall the early years of the summit when "[f]inal documents were rather short and reflected rather accurately the issues dealt with by the heads of state and government, although the tendency to increase the length and number of subjects was already evident." Later, "[t]he increase in the number of subjects discussed has gradually led to a lengthening and a diversification of the final documents ... . These documents reflect a nominal agenda, which in many cases does not correspond to the matters actually discussed by the heads of state and government."22
An example of this lack of correspondence is the almost one third of the space taken up by the topic of the environment in the communiqué of the 1989 Summit of the Arch, contrasted with the relatively short time the leaders actually spent discussing that subject during their working dinner (according to a background briefing by a senior official). Despite genuine efforts by the leaders to correct that kind of imbalance between released documents and actual discussions, and some real successes in this respect in more recent summits, a certain imbalance remains. For example--according to a background briefing by a senior official--Russian brutality in the war in Chechnya was brought up in Halifax in 1995, with several G7 leaders expressing unhappiness if not protest to Russian President Yeltsin. But the Halifax chairman's statement of the P8 is silent on Chechnya, although remarks by the host leader prior to the release of the chairman's statement express "concern at the continuing conflict and the resulting loss of life and civilian casualties ... [and the participants'] strong belief that the situation in Chechnya should not be resolved by military means."23 Dissatisfaction with the French decision to resume nuclear testing in the South Pacific was also voiced by several delegations in Halifax, but--keeping with the G7 tradition of not openly criticizing summit colleagues--this sentiment did not find its way into the public documentation of the Summit.
Bergsten, a prominent critic of the G7, decries this hesitancy, stating that "[t]he `nonaggression pact' now pervades the behaviour of the G7. The members have decided not to criticize each other, especially in public, where it can sometimes be more effective, because they have lost confidence in their ability to influence events and because they fear being criticized themselves."24
Several analysts have called for various changes in summit documentation. Owada advocates the necessity of "a more structured approach to many vital issues through the summit process, while avoiding a bureaucratic straitjacket involving spending much time on preparing a document which basically lacks substance." Maull criticizes the "ever longer, broader and more non-committal communiqués, which tried to hide substantive policy disagreements by focusing on elements of consensus and mutual recognition of different national approaches." He mentions the German desire to see shorter communiqués and separate chairman's summaries of political topics. Defarges concurs: the French view is that "declarations should be shorter, focusing on a few key points... . [If they] are shorter, they will be read more carefully and become more binding." Kirton, similarly, points to Canada's "strong preference for a short, straightforward, comprehensible communiqué--one that reflect[s] what the leaders actually cared about, talked about and meant, and one that [is] easily understood not just by the officials ... but by the media and public at large."25
Hodges laments the inflationary increase in the length of the communiqué from 1,100 words at Rambouillet to 7,000 words at Munich [the Munich communiqué was actually 3,560 words in length. Houston produced a declaration of some 6,000 words.--P.H.] Hodges cites John Major's reform proposals that include the desirability of "concise final communiqués that reflect the issues actually discussed and the priorities established". Quoting a British official, he adds that "instead of producing prenegotiated texts and thematic papers, the sherpa meetings should concentrate on discussing lead papers introduced by a chairman." The British preference, pre-Naples, was for a shorter final declaration that "should integrate political and economic issues."26
Garavoglia and Padoan, writing in early 1994, also suggest that
[o]nly one final document should be issued at the end of the summit and it should integrate economic and political aspects as much as possible. Furthermore, it should reflect the matters actually discussed by the leaders. This means that it would be much shorter than current communiqués, facilitating immediate public understanding of the matters discussed ... . If the non-decisional nature of the summit is to be underlined, this could be done by a less demanding "summary by the chairman" illustrating the main points on which the heads of state and government reached agreement27.
It is interesting to note how quickly real events can overtake even the best-considered proposals from outside the G7. One of the major new developments at the Naples Summit that took place only a few months after the above-cited proposal was written was Russia's formal participation in the political discussions. This resulted in an immediate change in the pattern of summit documentation, described in detail above: the communiqué of the 1994, 1995 and 1996 summits was issued at the end of the G7 part of the summit, on the second day, so that it was no longer the "final" document. The "chairman's statement" came to express the conclusions of the P8 which followed.
The new configuration of the "Summit of the Eight" at Denver in 1997 has changed the nature and scope of the communiqué. Now a document of the Eight, the Communiqué was released at the conclusion of the summit, on 22 June. The following additional documents were released in Denver:
The British host of the 15-17 May 1998 Birmingham Summit, Prime Minister Tony Blair, with the concurrence of his fellow leaders, introduced several innovations in summit format, agenda and participation. These major changes are reflected in the pattern of documentation.
At all previous summits, the leaders had been accompanied by their foreign and finance ministers and often by an entourage of other officials. Birmingham, in contrast, was a leaders-only summit, with foreign and finance ministers meeting separately in London a week before the Summit, on 8-9 May, to prepare for the summit agenda and to deal with issues not on the agenda of the summit itself. This format made it possible to arrive at a long-desired but never-before-achieved informality, enabling the leaders to spend considerable time together and to focus personally on topics that they wished to discuss. (This was further enhanced by an all-day retreat at the secluded 17th-century Weston Park estate on the border of Staffordshire and Shropshire, away not only from bureaucrats but, more importantly, from the prying eyes of the media.)
Birmingham had a more focused agenda than previous summits, centering on three themes: promoting sustainable growth in the global economy; employability and social inclusion; and combatting drug trafficking and other forms of transnational crime. As for membership, in Birmingham the G7 became officially the G8, with Russia as a full member. Nonetheless, the G7 is far from dead. In fact, not only did the finance ministers meet "at seven" in London the week before the summit; the G7 heads themselves had their own meeting in Birmingham for two hours, before the official start of the G8 summit. The Russians professed indifference to this event, saying that it was of no interest to them because it had taken place before the summit itself. On the other hand, they were quick to offer to host a G8 summit in Russia in 2000--which would displace Japan, the scheduled host of the event that year. This issue remained unresolved in Birmingham.
The documents issued at Birmingham were, as expected, fewer in number compared to documentation of recent summits. The G8 Summit itself issued the following:
Apart from the G8 summit as a whole, host leader Blair issued on 16 May a Response By the Presidency on Behalf of the G8 to the Jubilee 2000 Petition, a document referred to earlier. In it Mr. Blair, on behalf of the G8 leaders, addressed the concerns of 50,000 demonstrators at the summit site as well as a number of organizations behind the demonstration who urged complete debt forgiveness for all poor countries by the year 2000.
As indicated earlier, the G7 still coexists with the new G8 configuration. G7 leaders met in Birmingham for two hours on 15 May, before the official start of the G8 summit. It is an interesting irony that just as the leader of the USSR and then Russia had been invited to meet with the G7 heads after the official ending of the 1991, 1992 and 1993 summits, in Birmingham it was the G7 that met outside of the G8 summit. They released a G7 Chairman's Statement, commenting on the world economy and on the strengthening of the global financial system. On the latter issue, the G7 leaders supported the eight-page report submitted to them by the G7 finance ministers entitled Strengthening the Architecture of the Global Financial System. In this document, the ministers identified five areas needing action: enhanced transparency; helping countries prepare for integration into the global economy and for free global capital flows; strengthening national financial systems; ensuring that the private sector takes responsibility for its lending decisions; and further enhancing the role of and cooperation among the IMF, the Bank for International Settlements, the World Bank, and other international financial institutions.
In order for Blair to achieve the goal of a full G8 with a streamlined agenda and simpler documentation, it was necessary to have a careful, detailed preparatory process that included a series of ministerial meetings, the most interesting of which took place in London on 8-9 May 1998, bringing together the G7, then G8, finance ministers and the G8 foreign ministers. This meeting, along with its documents, is discussed in the sext section.
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Updated: June 25, 1998
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