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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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Participation in the Summit

There are considerable problems in limiting ministerial participation in the summits. Not only are coalition countries not keen on just having the head of government but also if one considers the summits to have primarily an economic focus there are strong arguments for the finance ministers to participate. The British favour a Heads- only format, perhaps with the Foreign Ministers emulating the Finance Ministers in having their own meetings separately from the summit process (the Finance Ministers meet earlier in the year at the spring IMF/IBRD meetings and the OECD Ministerial meeting in June, as well as at the summit itself). The Foreign Ministers have no comparable process; if Foreign and Finance Ministers are to be at the summit because others insist (and they do have a role in the Political Declaration at the summit), then in the British view they should have their own separate meetings in parallel with the Heads and join the Heads only when necessary, perhaps just for a single final plenary. Douglas Hurd would like the Foreign and Finance Ministers to have no role at the summit, but if they are to be there, then they should have a meaningful role and not just a reduced one.

On the question of participation of foreign and finance ministers, there has been little progress because of German and especially Japanese problems with coalition governments (and for Japan the problem of consensual decision-making) and also cohabitation in France. While the US was sympathetic to the British case, at Tokyo it decided (as did the British) to acquiesce in continuing the present format because the other participants resisted change. The idea of reduction of participants to the Heads would be very difficult for Japan, and the British accept this. Even so, they regard the current arrangements as an excessive commitment of time by foreign and finance ministers. The G7 foreign ministers can in theory meet outside the summit whenever necessary and appropriate (as they do once a year for an informal dinner in the margins of the UN General Assembly), but this is a sensitive matter in view of the French opposition to institutionalisation of a political G7. Some finance ministers see the summits as somewhat of a waste of time; the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke, remarked in a BBC-TV interview in Tokyo (7 July 1993) "I have to say it is a bit curious to have to come to a Tokyo hotel room to have a long discussion with the German finance minister but it is useful nevertheless."

Foreign and finance ministers will thus continue to attend the summit, and there are few signs that in future summits their time will be used more effectively. The foreign and finance ministers clearly have to meet before the final plenary otherwise there would be no point in them going. In Naples they will have a meeting and a meal together and provide input into the final plenary and the draft of the communiqué. The summits also provide them with an opportunity for bilateral meetings, although they already have abundant possibilities for such contacts elsewhere.

The British share the consensus view that there should only be three seats at the table for each country - and thus Germany excludes its sherpa if both ministers of economics and finance participate. Britain has resisted the spawning of G7 Ministerial meetings on specialist subjects reporting to the summit - it takes the view that Heads of government should determine the agenda, not their ministers.

The summit does not include trade ministers, which is a problem for the Japanese, given the important role of MITI. There has been a strong Treasury bias in the sherpas since 1987 -- hardly surprising given that these are economic summits with the world economy as the first and major agenda item. The British have tried to use the summits as a means of projecting British views on the need for structural adjustment and (at the last three summits) the crucial importance of concluding the GATT Uruguay Round negotiations successfully. Certainly the British see problems with including trade ministers, as Theo Waigel suggested at the finance ministers' meeting in January 1993. The perspective of finance ministers tends to be liberal, whereas trade ministers tend to take an eye for an eye approach. Moreover, trade in the European Union is the business of the Commission, which would be unhappy about EC national trade ministers interfering. Fortunately, the format of the summit is agreed (Heads, Foreign and Finance Ministers) and the question of participation of trade ministers is unlikely to be pursued.

The European Commission attends summits as of right (although the presidency, when held by a non-G7 European country, only attends the last sherpa meeting and the summit itself). The Commission obviously has a substantial and recognised role in issues of Community competence - after all it is EU money that plays a substantial part in aid to Russia and Eastern Europe. The Commission is not a participant in the G7 deputies'meetings. The British fully accept participation of the Commission at the sherpas' preparatory meetings, but are conscious of the danger of the summit "overdoing the European perspective", as one FCO official put it(21).

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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