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The Group of Eight and the European Union: The Evolving Partnership

II. The European Union in the G8

Gaining Membership

Shortly after the 1975 Rambouillet Summit, the institutions of the European Community as well as the individual member states that had not been invited as summit participants, voiced their indignation over being excluded from this new forum for multilateral discussion. The European Parliament initiated debate on the subject almost immediately after the first summit. During a parliamentary debate in June 1976, questions pertaining to the representation of the EC's non-participating member states in the economic summits as well as the capacity of the smaller states were directed to the acting president of the Council of Ministers,43 Gaston Thorn. As foreign minister of Luxembourg, the EC's smallest member state, Thorn was well aware of the concern smaller states had: they would become second-class members and lose the strengthened voice they had gained within the EC. However, Thorn emphasized that the real issue was Community representation versus that of certain member states acting individually. Thorn agreed to a compromise proposed by Commission president Roy Jenkins, that called for the EC to be represented in areas of its competence by the Presidents of the Council of Ministers and the Commission. Since this debate began only a few weeks prior to the 1976 Puerto Rico Summit, no agreement was reached, with the result that the EC was not officially represented at the second economic summit. The Community, believing that the summit process would diminish its role if it was excluded, was able to base its complaint on a legal component. The 1957 Treaty of Rome granted the European Communities, specifically the executive Commission, the sole right to speak for its members on certain economic issues, including international trade and anti-protectionist measures. Since the four European members of the G7 represented themselves in these economic issues at the summits, technically they were in violation of the treaty.

After it appeared that the summits would be an annual event following the 1976 Puerto Rico Summit,44 internal debate resumed. Due to the momentous implications of the outcome, the European Council, consisting of the heads of state and government of the member states, became involved. However, two successive European Council meetings failed to satisfactorily define the procedures for EC representation.

Immediately prior to a third meeting of the European Council in March 1977, the European Parliament presented a resolution, fully backed by the Commission, that demanded the presence of representatives of the EC from the Council of Ministers45 and the Commission at the Economic Summit in London. In this resolution the European Parliament:

1. Insist[ed] that the Community as such -- Council and Commission -- be represented at the forthcoming Western Economic Summit in London; and
2. Urgently request[ed] all the Governments of the member states and the Council of the Communities to work toward this end and requests the Government of the host country of the Summit to take immediate action.46

The European Council meeting immediately prior to the summit encountered new pressures from some of the smaller states for not going far enough, and from some European participants of the G7 for going too far. Eventually it was agreed, as stated in the resolution of the European Parliament, that the presidents of the Commission and Council should attend the parts of the summit only where the EC had competence. Final approval for this procedure was made later that year. The EC was officially represented first at the 1977 London Summit.

Even though the non-European members of the G8 never opposed the participation of the EC, disgruntled voices on the extent of their activity, especially in the case of political issues, continued to be heard from some of the European members. It was only at the seventh summit, held in Ottawa in 1981, that the representatives of the EC gained access to the political discussions in addition to economic talks.

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