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Canada, Europe and the Economic Summits

Sylvia Ostry

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In conclusion, let me now turn to a brief assessment of the role of Europe and of Canada in summitry.

The notion of "Europe" at the summit is relatively new. True, trade policy issues were the domain of the Commission from the beginning. But even for these, the divisiveness of the agricultural issue, not only across the Atlantic but within the Community itself, was amply evident around the summit table in the 1980's. The main actors in summitry until very recently were the four member countries, not the President of the Commission, and there were few items on the summit agenda which elicited a "European" position. As recently as the Tokyo Summit, the new forum for international cooperation, the G-7, excluded a Commission representative after a particularly bitter debate which served to emphasize the narrow power base of the Commission.

Further, as the history of summitry shows, while the original initiative to establish the forum was European, it seems to have been largely ad hominem and virtually all other significant changes since then have been instituted by the Americans.

But, as I've suggested, we probably are at a turning point in summitry with respect to the role of "Europe". The first overt sign was the assignment of the Commission to the coordinating role vis-à-vis Eastern Europe at the Paris Summit. At Houston, this same role for the Soviet Union was somewhat diluted by the request for a study by the IMF as well as the Commission. Nonetheless, there is obviously an unstoppable momentum to greater European integration, both economic and political, and this will change both the process and probably the structure of summitry. The only open questions are when and how. These are by no means trivial questions, admittedly, for either Europe or for an increasingly interdependent world.

Canada's role in summitry raises questions of an entirely different nature. As a middle-sized power Canada is sometimes seen (or sees itself) as uniquely situated: the smallest of the large; the north of the south. The role of the middle-sized power as a bridge between the summit and other groups of countries has at times been successfully exploited for specific issues: African debt at the Toronto Summit is an example where discussions over several years with groups such as the Commonwealth and la Francophonie as well as the British and the French produced an important policy outcome. Canadian membership in both the summit and the Cairns group provides another such example in the trade field. Indeed Canada has played a very active role in the Uruguay Round negotiations as a whole in organizing and participating in a number of issue-specific coalitions with other middle-sized powers both developed and developing. A good deal of the more extensive summit references to trade issues in the second half of the eighties stems largely from Canadian efforts. The most recent example, the reference in both the OECD Ministerial and Houston Summit communiqués to GATT institutional strengthening, reflects the recent Canadian proposal to establish a World Trade Organization at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round.

So the questions that arise for a future Canadian role in summitry are very different from and yet in a sense related to those concerning the role of Europe. Is the scope for a middle power enhanced or diminished by the move away from the hegemonic dominance of the U.S. to a bipolar or multipolar power structure in the summit forum? Will the deepening and eventual widening of Europe create an inexorable pressure to a triad of blocs -- not necessarily in an institutionalized forum but in a de facto power sense. Will that, then, mean the eventual demise of the middle-sized power de facto if not de jure. Is Canada a representative of an endangered species?

Source: Presented at the All-European Canadian Studies Conference, The Hague, 24-27 October, 1990. Unpublished. Reproduced by permission of Dr. Sylvia Ostry.

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