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More Efficiency, Less Dignity:
British Perspectives on the Future Role and Working of the G7

Michael Hodges
London School of Economics & Political Science

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Frequency, Duration and Location of Summit Meetings

John Major in his letter to other G7 Heads in August 1992 questioned whether the summit needed to be held every year. However, the other Heads attached importance to the annual rhythm of the summit meetings and the British officials interviewed did not spontaneously raise the annual nature of the summit as a significant issue, no doubt regarding it at present as a lost cause.

The British have argued for a compressed time span and less ceremony at the summit meetings. This suggestion to reduce the amount of time to two days rather than three, with much of the third day for the G7+1 meeting with President Yeltsin, seems to have been generally accepted by the other G7 Heads. The Italians have proposed shortening the meeting with more quality time for the Heads, and with foreign and finance ministers only meeting from lunch on the second day after the Heads have had dinner together and a morning session. The plenary session on the third morning would be to approve the final communiqué.

To ensure informality and to gain somewhat more freedom from the attention of the media, the British would like the summit to be held in a secluded venue (such as a château). The location of the summit meeting in non-capital cities such as Munich or Naples does not in itself solve the problem of the media circus surrounding the annual meetings; it is difficult to see how one city can provide a more or less productive environment than another, aside from communications and infrastructure -- which in most cases would favour capitals and major metropolitan centres. Certainly it would be hard to argue that Munich was more productive than Bonn. One journalist suggested that "Ideally one should put the Heads on a ship at sea with no briefings and a brief final statement so that the summits could concentrate on mutual information giving rather than producing decisions."(19) Nevertheless there are very great political pressures to produce decisions and for the Heads to be seen by the media to have achieved success. The finance ministers have certainly de-dramatised their meetings (including meetings without communiqués and communiqués without meetings) and have achieved something in consequence.

Overall the G7 summits are considered to be a worthwhile endeavour by the British, although individual meetings have been of variable utility. Munich was certainly not worth the time invested; Tokyo was perceived as more successful. All the Heads of government think that investing two days in discussion with their peers is a good use of their time - it enables them to get to know each other, to discuss common problems candidly, to facilitate bilateral contacts, to display a sense of purpose and to provide collective support for difficult decisions at home. The problem, in the British view, is not that the G7 summit is a waste of time, but that it has expanded beyond the point of its true utility and has lost effectiveness by losing (or not developing) a clear sense of purpose.

Source: The International Spectator, 29, No. 2 (April/June 1994), Special Issue, pp. 141-159. Copyright ©, Istituto Affari Internazionali. Reproduced by permission of the author and Istituto Affari Internazionali.

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