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

The G-7 and the Need for Reform

Cesare Merlini

[Previous] [Document Contents] [Next]

The Functioning of the G-7

Two conclusions can be drawn from the considerations made thus far. The first is that the G-7 semi-institution is not capable of acting as a directoire in the various institutions in which the Seven are important members, nor is it willing to become a full institution itself. There has been much skepticism lately about the "group", especially in the United States, but this can mainly be attributed to the current mood of intolerance or reserve towards (or at least lack of faith in) multilateralism. All agree, however, that the G-7 must continue, at least for the moment. Under these anything but ideal conditions, the function proposed for the G-7 is the following.

Regional and global harmonization

The phase of emerging regionalism described in the article by Garavoglia and Padoan as the last-weak-stage in-G-7 history is often seen as being in contrast with the imperatives of globalism, resulting both from the fact that the planet has become smaller through intensified communications, increased. interdependence and the global nature of East-West confrontation. globalism. The view

Much has been said and written about-regionalism vs. put forth here is that the emergence of regional institutions is Positive, as long as it takes place in a framework of reciprocal compatibility. That is why the- signature and the ratification of the NAFTA Treaty was judged positively and the birth of APEC was not viewed with suspicion. The anti-European attitudes that seem to be encouraged by some "eminent persons" are not dominant in these groupings. Furthermore, Japanese positions envisaging regional models along the lines of Europe for initial integration in the Asia-Pacific area are being followed with interest, even though they are still élitist at the moment.

Regional institutions have a greater capacity, or at least potential, for integration among members than global ones. But above all, they are turning out to be important poles of attraction for a growing number of new members. Thus, the European Community has integrated Greece, Spain and Portugal; the European Union will probably do the same with the countries of Central-Eastern Europe (the enlargements to the north have not had the same effect of extending the West). Indeed, it seems that NAFTA, after having brought Mexico into the US-Canada trade agreement in the same way that the EC aggregated the south of Europe, has now received requests from other countries, such as Chile, which, it seems, has good chances of entry. No integrative nucleus can be discerned as yet in the Asia-Pacific area. Could it perhaps be ASEAN?

This process has a strong stabilizing effect, even to the benefit of global fora. There is, however, the problem of compatibility and cooperation among these blocs. It is felt that the G-7 has a unique and essential role to play in this search for compatibility and cooperation. In other words, the G-7 should be an interface between the global and the regional. The following diagram is an attempt to illustrate this idea graphically.

The upper part of the diagram lists global development and security tasks, and common rules and existing regimes. The large box contains the institutions: the UN (at the center), the economic institutions, and the treaties against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (on the two sides). The so-called regional questions such as enlargements, local actions and rules and the new institutions are listed in the lower part of the diagram. They are divided into three main groups: Europe, North America and, in a very indefinite manner, Asia-Pacific (for the moment there are neither rules nor institutions "around" Japan, hence the question mark). The CSCE has been included in the diagram with some hesitation, given its minor importance and its uncertain nature (is it global or regional? Perhaps it is more global than regional, in spite of appearances). FIGURE I Globalism and Regionalism REGIONAL ISSUES

In the middle, vertically, are the G-7 countries, immediately surrounded by the OECD. In his article, Owada suggests closer links between these two fora. The former may play the role of "executive committee" for the latter, while the latter provides a support of research and analysis for the former (a recent example of this synergy is the report presented by the OECD upon the request of the heads of state and government at the Detroit conference on unemployment and the intention shown by the ministers of labor and of finance to entrust the OECD with further matters for study). The point is that the OECD is a weak and specialized institution. As such, it can act as a support and resonator for the G-7 in the economic field, but cannot promote development of these political abilities needed for the G-7 to carry out the liaison function proposed here.

The pursuit of compatibility and cooperation among regional groupings in which the Seven have-the ability to channel decisions and obtain consensus, on the one hand, and - global groupings in which they play an important role, on the other, should be the guiding light in summit decision making and in the activity of lower structures.

Hence the suggestions made earlier for the summit to promote the use of Western instruments such as NATO and the WEU in support-of UN actions; to stimulate an interregional point of view in the nascent WTO; to help strengthen global regimes such as the one on non-proliferation, also through regional security and control capabilities; etc.

More functional clarity

The second conclusion that can be drawn is that in order to carry out its function, the G-7, must clarify and define the objectives. and conduct of the summits of heads of state and of the many other meetings of ministers, sherpas and other high-ranking officials (i.e. of the structure).

The summit is not a decision-making forum, as a number of articles in this collection point out. Its role should be to-provide momentum to certain functions that have been assigned to it. To put it in musical terms, the summit does not play; it conducts the orchestra, interpreting the score, assigning the instruments and giving the starting note. The instruments may belong to the G-7 or they may be external; they may be permanent, temporary or ad hoc.

This 'momentum can only be effective if the leaders are able to identify and impose common interests and if they have sufficient authority within their countries. The lack of one or both of these conditions weakens the summit, but this is no reason to leave it in a kind of limbo. Even the seemingly simplest task suggested here-inter-institutional linkage-can achieve the objective of giving more substance and, therefore, more credibility to the meetings of the heads of state or government.

In the foregoing, the summit has been identified with the meeting of the heads of state or government. Actually, delegations are made up of two other members of government: an economic minister and a foreign minister. In addition, there are special cases in some delegations, which will not be entered into here.

The number of people involved in these meetings and the length of the communiqués are the most evident objects of criticism raised in this study. As regards the former, there does not seem to be any useful reason "to leave the ministers at home". What may be an improvement is the separation of the meeting of the heads of state and government from contemporaneous ones of ministers (this is current practice in bilateral intergovernmental meetings). The declaration on economic and global issues would be formulated by the economic ministers, while that on political matters would be drawn up by the foreign ministers. The declarations, especially those on economic matters, could contain the usual elements of continuity-the "we reaffirm typical of summit communiqués-and would then go on to give indications and possibly commitments.

The meeting of the heads of state or government, on the other hand, would have three main functions:

The last two functions would characterize the summit meetings -and could be described in "conclusions of the chair" or, if considered opportune, a brief specific and effective declaration. Thus, heads of state or government would be spared the tiring task of solving the questions left open (the famous square brackets) while drawing up the final declaration, which is, in fact, initial because it is largely drafted by officials months before the summit' Delegating the task-of agreeing on the definitive texts to the two ministerial meetings would in turn benefit them in terms of time, in that they would not have to draw up declarations for delegation heads. Of course, agreement may not be reached at the ministerial level on some passages, calling for referral to the top level. But part of the informal exchange of ideas encompassed by the first function could be dedicated to this.

Other technicalities relating to the summit, such as the order or contemporaneousness of meetings, or whether or not plenary sessions should be maintained, will not be discussed. Diplomatic experts are more competent to deal with the problem.

It must be emphasized, however, that greater "personalization" of the summit in the manner and bounds described here calls for greater personalization of the sherpas as well. In Nepal, a sherpa is a carrier of loads, but he can also have a more important role, as was the case with the first sherpa to achieve world renown, Tenzing, who may even have reached the summit of Everest before his British boss, Hillary. We are not suggesting that the same thing should take place in the G-7 (also because there would be witnesses this time), but are only urging a return to the original formula in which sherpas were personal representatives of the heads of state or government.

Sherpas should be given the status of "ambassadors at large"'; freed Of much of the task of preparing communiqués, they should represent contacts preliminary to the summit and informal exchanges during the year, for example, during crises. Sherpas should also prepare their heads of state or government for the meeting by describing the options available; they should be their leaders' "eyes" in -all those ad hoc meetings that the summit has set up. On the eve of each summit, this function should translate into a confidential report. drawn up by the sherpas for their leaders concerning the results and the implementation of the recommendations of the previous meeting. This report should be worked out jointly, but this would not preclude the incorporation of personal assessments by the sherpas.

These suggested changes in the role of the sherpa move in the opposite direction from those made by the Clinton Administration. As pointed out by Putnam elsewhere in this issue, Clinton has chosen a medium-ranking official to symbolize his Administration's attention to the G-7.

In addition to the sherpa, other high-ranking officials are important for the functioning of the-G-7: above all the economic coordinator-the deputy sherpa, and the political directors or equivalents at the Foreign Ministry. The enhanced status of the sherpa would call for an analogous strengthening of the role of these officials. Deputy sherpas would have the dual task of drafting the economic declaration and directing the functioning of what has been called the G-7 'engineroom", that is the meeting of the finance ministers. The political-directors already participate in the preparation of the part of the summit declaration dealing with their field. Their work should, however, be made less routine, allowing them to dedicate energies to crisis monitoring. But this capability is more potential than concrete at the moment, and as such should be kept ready for action.

It is obvious from the foregoing that the point of view upheld here is that the machinery" backing the summits should not be disassembled or even reduced. It is an essential part not only of the functioning of the G-7, but also of its representativeness at times, as seen in the recent meeting in Detroit on labor problems, when the president of the United States-hence a G-7 leader-opened one of the ministerial meetings.

When referring to structure, or 'machinery", three specific components are meant:

Supporters will see this multitude of meetings in the framework of the G-7 as a sign of its vitality; critics will say that it is "much ado about nothing" aimed at hiding the substantial ineffectiveness of the G-7. Without taking sides here, it is believed that this structure is essential for the very fact that it is flexible (i.e. "unstructured") and can be adapted to requirements. It should not be weighed down at the moment, although it may be a good idea to assign one deputy Sherpa -per country to do some organizational coordination, such as occurs in the OECD. In some cases, the structure can perhaps even be streamlined further, by eliminating the meetings of both ministers and officials that are not sufficiently, motivated.

Once again the question of whether to invite Russian representatives to these meetings arises. The answer is "yes". Referring back to the first sections of this article, it should be recalled that -if the G-7 is to have a-foreign policy leading it to open up to other partners, especially to representatives of Russia, then this can be pursued at lower levels as well.

[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.