Scholarly Publications and Papers
Help | Free Search | Search by Year | Search by Country | Search by Issue (Subject) | G8 Centre

Coming of Age: The European Community and The Economic Summit

Susan Hainsworth

[Previous] [Document Contents] [Next]

ii) EC Commission President Gaston Thorn's Summits

1981: OTTAWA (JULY 20-21)

Ottawa represented an inaugural summit for the political heads of state or government who would dominate the international stage in the early and mid-1980s. Although Putnam and Bayne concluded that "nothing significant" was achieved in Ottawa, the meeting did allow for animated discussions among the leaders and as such served a crucial familiarisation function. It was Ronald Reagan's first summit foray. In May 1981, French President Mitterrand formed the first Socialist-Communist government in the history of the European Community, and ended the era of Giscard d'Estaing, the 'spiritual father' of economic summitry.48 Only Schmidt remained from the original "Library Group" and the initial summit at Rambouillet. Gaston Thorn of Luxembourg assumed the reigns of power as President of the EC Commission from his predecessor Roy Jenkins, who had successfully enmeshed the EC into the summit process.

This shift in the political landscape inevitably had ramifications upon the very nature of the summit, which assumed a fundamentally 'non-decisional' format. Before the Ottawa summit, the American sherpa reportedly stated that "there will be no concrete conclusions, no numbers in the communique, no specific policy agreements",49 as Reagan shied away from the detailed agendas and specific commitments which Carter had preferred. His opinion that international negotiations and tight national targets risked distracting governments from their national economic responsibilities was shared by the U.K. and West German leaders. 50

Macroeconomic disagreements surfaced at the summit, as the other summit powers criticised the U.S. scheme for slow money supply growth based upon high interest rates and a strong dollar. Its inflationary effects exerted a strongly inhibiting impact upon their economic recovery.51 This problem of high interest rates in the U.S. and their damaging effect upon other summit countries would dominate macroeconomic policy discussions in many subsequent summit gatherings.

In the realm of trade and protectionism, which had been basically neglected at both the 1979 and 1980 gatherings, the summit leaders endorsed the proposal to call a ministerial-level meeting of the GATT in 1982 which had previously been formulated by the consultative Group of Eighteen. An important institutional innovation was made at the Ottawa meeting in the domain of international trade: the 'Trade Minister's Quadrilateral' was granted its mandate. In this ministerial forum, the trade ministers of the United States, Canada, Japan and the EC Commission -- the four most powerful and influential powers in the international trade system -- would meet at regular intervals throughout the year in order to promote and maintain movement towards trade liberalisation.

One particularly vexatious commercial problem for the EC was given no specific mention on the final communiqué, although it was discussed at the meeting: the increasingly aggressive trade policies of Japan and their detrimental effects upon the European Community. Regarding the automobile industry, the Commission's preference for an overall solution applying to the entire EC had been undermined by the defence of national interests by EC member states, which bolstered the Japanese bargaining position. At the time of the summit, all members of the Community (excluding Denmark and Greece, which had no domestic automobile manufacturing industry), were covered either by unilateralist protectionist measures (this was the case in Britain , France, and Italy), or by bilateral accords with the Japanese. 52 Obviously, this quandary weakened the impact of the Commission in commercial discussions at the summit table, as individual European countries chose to effectuate trade arrangements on a national basis. The European Commission made repeated attempts to utilise summits to pressure Japan into improving market access, to no avail.53

Of particular importance to the enhancement of the European Commission's status at the summit, however, was the opportunity for it to contribute for the first time to the wide-ranging discussions of political issues which fell onto the agenda, were discussed, and then released in the "Chairman's Summary of Political issues". These included terrorism, the Middle East, East-West relations, Afghanistan, arms control, and refugees.

Positions on all these items had been reached previously within the EPC framework. Developments within the EC system in 1981 enhanced EPC summit solidarity, and affirmed the role of the Commission as an essential element in EPC. The London (Genscher-Colombo) Report of 1981, which undertook to codify and evaluate the developing practice of European foreign policy coordination and concertation, stated that the EPC had become a 'central element' in the foreign policies of EC member states, and it created the troika system (past, present and upcoming Presidencies) to ensure better coordination and consistency between Presidencies. The 1981 Report eradicated what lingered of the Presidency's margin of manoeuvre to exclude the Commission from participation in EPC activities. Accordingly, the Commission was finally admitted to political discussions at the Ottawa Economic Summit, and contributed where possible to the formulation of common Community positions. It had no role where NATO (i.e. defense) affairs were concerned, concentrating mainly upon the political and economic aspects of security.

Thus, at Ottawa, the President of the Commission was accepted as a full participant in all deliberations, both political and economic, representing a considerable augmentation in its status at the summit table, and signalling the affirmation of the Commission's legitimacy as an international actor with both the competence and authority to participate in collective global management of political and economic issues.

[Previous] [Document Contents] [Next]

G8 Centre
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:
This page was last updated .

All contents copyright © 1995-99. University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.