G7 Governance
Free Search | Search by Year | Search by Country | Search by Issue (Subject) | G8 Centre


~ G7 Governance Homepage ~

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

II. The European Union in the G8

Case Study: The G8 and the Global Information Society

During the first half of 1994, the G7 recognized that a revolution was taking place in the field of information technology. Computers were not just getting faster. The use of computers, technology and information was spreading to all realms of business and society. Perceiving that opportunities as well as dangers were associated with this revolution, the G7 began to promote the idea of a global information society. The 1994 Naples Summit Communiqué provided a statement of their intent: "[We] encourage and promote innovation and the spread of new technologies including, in particular, the development of an open, competitive and integrated worldwide information structure."62

Europe Hosts G7 Ministerial Conference

US Vice President Al Gore is credited with initiating the idea of convening a G7 ministerial conference to launch the Global Information Society. While the original host country was therefore to be the US, after the institutions of the EU indicated their eagerness to host such a conference, the US deferred and agreed to offer support.63

The first G7 Information Society Conference took place in Brussels on 25-26 February 1995. It was officially hosted by the European Commission and took place in the European Parliament. Attending were the relevant ministers from G7 members as well as officials from non-G7 countries. The following excerpt from the conference theme paper expresses the purpose of the Global Information Society:

Most countries around the world have shaped their own national political visions of the information society. As they become a reality, they must ensure that the network of networks is transformed into a global information infrastructure. This task will require unprecedented international cooperation...G7 governments also know that they have a fundamental responsibility to ease the transition towards the new age, and that its realization will require long-term collaboration between, among others, economic actors, academia and public authorities. Their ability to guarantee each citizen the right to access to the global information infrastructure and to maximize the benefits, while controlling potential risks is the key objective to be pursued.64

In developing the framework of the Global Information Society, the participants of the conference developed eight core principles which were designed to serve as guidelines:

1. Promoting fair competition;

2. Encouraging private investment;

3. Defining an adaptable regulatory framework;

4. Providing open access to networks;

5. Ensuring universal provision of and access to services;

6. Promoting equality of opportunity to the citizen;

7. Promoting diversity of content, including cultural and linguistic diversity;

8. Recognizing the necessity of worldwide cooperation with particular attention to less developed countries.65

These priorities are being achieved through a series of eleven joint pilot projects. Included among these Global Information Projects (GIPs) are such areas as cross-cultural education and training; electronic libraries, museums, and galleries; maritime information systems; global marketplace for small and medium sized businesses; and global healthcare applications. (See Appendix B for a complete description of these G8 projects including the Internet and E-mail addresses of the Information Society Project Office.) While initially to be implemented by the participants of the G7, other nations have been urged to become involved in the operation of these projects.

The S7 welcomed the substantial results of the conference in the 1995 Halifax Summit Communiqué. Additionally, they called for "the involvement of the private sector" as well as the participation of developing states and those with economies in transition to join the members of the G7 in creating the Global Information Society.

With the success of the Brussels Information Society Conference, the EU has gained considerable stature within the G8 system. It has also made evident the extent to which the institutions of the EU represent both the non-G8 and member states along with the four G8 member states. A resolution of the European Parliament stressed this aspect:

[The European Parliament] invites, on the occasion of the G7, the Commission and the Member States which participate in the Conference, to agree on a common agenda which takes full account of the interdependence of economic, industrial, social, cultural, and technical aspects wherever the information society is concerned, as such an approach is the truest to the historical, cultural and political traditions of Europe; (emphasis added).66

In addition to the initial G7 conference, the EU also created the Information Society Forum in June 1995 with the objective to more closely coordinate intra-European information technology standards. Consisting of both public and private representatives, the Forum acts in a consultative manner, meeting every two or three months to gather and disseminate information. On the occasion of two major Information Society Forum conferences in 1995 and 1996, the EU reached agreements on cooperative policy measures for the Mediterranean area as well as Central and Eastern Europe.

Representation Increases

The G7 Information Society Conference that took place the next year expanded involvement on two fronts by increasing both the number of participating states as well as the representation of the European Parliament. Held in South Africa 13-15 May 1996, the conference focused on the Information Society and development. South Africa was chosen as the venue to demonstrate the resolve of the G7 to involve other nations, particularly developing countries. In order to make it a truly global information society, it was deemed imperative to expand membership. In attendance were 40 countries and 18 international organizations. The European Union also recognized that because this initiative would have such an extensive effect on society, increased democratic representation in the case of the EU institutions was imperative. Accordingly, for the first time members of the European Parliament, Alan Donnelly and Glenys Kinnock, joined European Commission officials in representing the EU at the 1996 Global Information Conference. Belonging to the European Socialist group within the European Parliament, Donnelly and Kinnock stressed the need to include the developing world in the information revolution:

In an era in which the fortunes and misfortunes of nations are more intimately interlinked than ever before, we in the North cannot afford to cordon ourselves off and ignore the urgent need for development in the countries of the South. As European Socialists we therefore welcome this commitment by the G7 to extend the Information Society to the rest of the world. [This conference] is a recognition of the need to specifically tackle the problems developing countries must solve if they are to move into the information age.67

The Future of the G8 Global Information Society

The 1996 Lyon Summit Chairman's Statement clearly states the commitment to the coordinated growth of information and communication technologies that the G7 desire not only among themselves but on a global basis:

They have important potential to meet basic human needs, develop human resources, promote economic growth, encourage participatory democracy and a free media...We are committed to fostering partnership between the public and the private sector."68

The Global Information Society Projects are solid evidence of this partnership. Responsibility for coordinating the establishment and operation of the various GIPS was given to specific G8 participants either individually or in partnership. While much emphasis has been placed on the social implications of the information revolution, another prime objective of the Global Information Society is to assist in the development of an open, competitive and integrated global information structure. The GIPs have been effective in bringing about cooperation on the economic front. As a Japanese official stated, "The projects have expanded to other countries. This is a positive achievement, since the G8 cannot do everything in these fields. While the G8 market is very large, a more international market is needed."69

Given the diversity of the Global Information Projects, each has taken a unique approach. However, a feature common to all is that they have "mobilized many - in some cases most - of the key actors in the world in their areas of activity and have helped pull together the global effort that is vital for the success of the information society."70

On 7 May 1998 a meeting of the G8 GIP National Coordinators, including Russia, was held in Brussels to assess the achievements to date and offer direction for the future. They noted that the "global mobilization" that has occurred has been one of the most significant factors of the projects.71 However, they also recognized the need for the GIPs to establish tangible objectives with a view to completing the pilot projects in 1999. It was recommended that each GIP team develop appropriate institutional and financial frameworks. While no further action was taken at Birmingham, a final report on the Global Information Projects will be presented at the 1999 G8 Cologne Summit.

The active leadership that the EU has shown in its G8 activities, including both the Global Information Society as well as the G24 sponsored assistance to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, demonstrates the important contributions of EU participation. However, the exact manner of this evolution remains to be determined. Sylvia Ostry has noted that there:

is obviously an unstoppable momentum to greater European integration, both economic and political, and this will change the process and probably the structure of summitry. The only open questions are when and how. These are by no means trivial questions, admittedly, for either Europe or for an increasingly interdependent world.72

While this section has attempted to answer some of the questions surrounding the evolving partnership of the EU and G8, it also has intended to raise others: How will the growing participation of the EU within the G8:

- affect the participation of the European members of the G8?

- influence the future agenda of the G8?

- shape the specialist programs of the G8?73

These questions, as well as many others, await further analysis.

[Previous] [Document
Contents] [Next]


This Information System is provided by the University of Toronto Library and the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Please send comments to: g8@utoronto.ca
Updated: June 25, 1998

All contents copyright © 1998, G8 Research Group. All rights reserved.