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

II. The European Union in the G8

The Role and Impact of the European Union on the Summit Process

While there were still some administrative difficulties which followed such as not enough chairs at meetings, a protocol snub by a European head of state, and questions on whom to invite, the EU has become a full participant in the Western Economic Summit process. However, since the EU is not an official member, it does not have a right to all the privileges. For instance, the EU cannot host a summit. In addition, the EU traditionally has refrained from taking part in all discussions and limits its discussion to such areas as international trade.

Pascal Lamy, sherpa to European Commission President Jacques Delors from 1985-1989, set out three reasons justifying the participation of the EC in the G7:

The first and most important reason is that the European Community has taken over powers from its member states in a number of areas which are also treated by the Summits...The second reason is that the process of political cooperation is becoming increasingly important within the European Community; and Summits which were initially confined to economic issues have also to a growing extent turned their attention to international political questions...The third reason is that its participation allows it to represent the eight smaller states that are not included in their own right.47

Officially, both the European Commission and the Council Presidency represent the EU as a unit as well as the member states of the EU which are not members of the G8. They attempt to coordinate their views with the four European member states who are full G8 participants. When the summit is hosted by a European member of the G8 who at the same time holds the six month rotating EU Presidency, which is attempted whenever possible, the member state's role as EU Presidency is combined with its national role. In the case of a non-G8 EU member holding the EU Presidency at the time of a G8 summit, it both participates in the summit preparation as well as sends its head of government to the summit.48 However, the President of the Commission, generally accompanied by the Commissioner responsible for external economic and political affairs, attend the summits.

Although the EU does not bring a formal mandate to the summit meetings, it attempts to present as coherent a package as the often diverse views of all member states allow. Prior to 1981, coordination was arranged through discussions at the European Council meeting which took place immediately prior to the Western Summit. Since then the European Council has reduced the number of meetings to twice a year, meeting in June and December. However, Nicholas Bayne is of the opinion that EU influence in the G8 process tends to have a greater impact when a summit is preceded by a Council meeting. He notes the example of the common European position evident at the 1990 Houston Summit. European agreement was facilitated by a request for a Commission proposal by the European Council meeting one month prior to the Summit.49

Currently, there is a fully established process of preparation within the Commission that follows the timetable set by the G8 sherpas. Working groups within the Commission draw up the institution's economic and political declarations. With no formal mandate of EU views to guide it at the summits, the Commission presents the views of the member states with as close to a consensus as has been reached. Observers of the result have concluded that:

on most topics a high degree of 'likemindedness' among Community members has been demonstrated...even without a formal mandate - common lines which are both a reflection of some basic 'European interests' and the result of long and complex process of deliberations within the Community.50

Following each G8 summit, the Commission will report the results to the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) and the Council of Ministers.

Participation by the EU in the G8 summits has resulted in three principal effects as summarized by Bonvicini and Wessels:

1) the regular meetings of the Western summits 'forced' all Community countries to elaborate some common guidelines for international economic policies, ...

2) have strengthened the de facto role of the Commission by actively involving it internally in the Community preparations and externally in the discussions and bargaining process of summitry itself, ...

3) relations between participating and non-participating Community countries seem not to have deteriorated ... [since] the non-participating countries apparently have felt sufficiently involved in the preparation and implementation of summit decisions.51

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Updated: June 25, 1998

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