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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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It is difficult in a short article -- even one almost as long as the final communiqués from the Munich G7 summit -- to provide a comprehensive account of British views on the future role and operation of the G7. I have been fortunate to be able to consult senior British diplomats and civil servants with past or present experience of the G7, as well as journalists and academics from the rather small group in Britain who have followed the development of the G7 closely. Throughout my interviews there was a striking degree of unanimity not only within Whitehall, but also among British journalists and academics: that the summits themselves should be slimmed down, that there is no pressing need to institutionalise the G7 structure, and that the G7 should resist the temptation to become an executive body with defined and differentiated functions. For this reason I have not devoted a separate section of my paper to non-governmental views in Britain, but have incorporated them in my discussion of G7 structures and procedures.

I have concentrated on the G7 summit rather than on the work of the G7 Finance Ministers and Deputies -- not because the latter are unimportant, but because there is somewhat less debate in Britain about their part of the G7 process. The summit is perceived in the UK as separate from the finance ministers' process, although there are inevitably linkages between them: sometimes economic policy coordination needs the imprimatur of the summit. The UK regards the summit itself as an annual event, whereas the finance ministers' meetings are a process, with extensive and intensive contacts on a bilateral and multilateral basis, especially among the finance ministers' deputies who are in frequent contact. The UK official view is that this process of cooperation is fine for the finance ministers, who have a specific function and agenda, but that Heads should not be drawn into a continuing and institutionalised process of cooperation. The UK does not believe that either the G7 themselves or the world at large are ready to see the G7 Heads of Government setting themselves up as some kind of "Super-Cabinet" or directoire for global governance.

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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