The G7 leaders' meeting in Brussels concluded yesterday, the first such summit for fifteen years.
It was to have been a G8 summit hosted by President Putin at an idyllic golf resort in Sochi, the home of the last Winter Olympics. But G7 members boycotted the G8 summit following Russia's annexation of the Crimea. So instead of enjoying the delights of Sochi, the G7 leaders met in the sombre, unadorned European Council building in Brussels, surrounded by construction sites and rain.
This was also the first summit in the 40-year history of the G7/8 hosted by the EU. Who knew the EU was in the G7/8? Notwithstanding the EU claiming for several years that it was a full member, it had previously never been recognised. One G7 host once forgot to provide a chair for the 'European' representative. Unlike the G20 (19 countries plus the EU), the EU's presence is not reflected in the name of the G7/8 club.
Hence one unexpected consequence of the boycott of the Russia boycott was to elevate the EU to full G7 membership. This comes at a time when many are questioning why there are so many Europeans represented at international meetings such as the G20 (namely, European national governments plus European institutions).
Was the Brussels G7 summit a success? Not surprisingly, the focus was on Ukraine and the headline was that the G7 was willing to step up sanctions on Russia over Ukraine. But it is not clear what the trigger will be for tougher sanctions, or their nature. President Putin did not appear perturbed, although his pride would have taken a hit at not being able to host the summit. When asked how he felt, Putin said 'I would like to wish them bon appetit'.
For Putin, there is always Brisbane; Prime Minister Abbott has said that the Russian president is still welcome at the November G20 summit. And while Putin was excluded from the summit, Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande did meet with him after the G7 summit, although apparently Putin and Cameron did not shake hands. Prime Minister Harper and President Obama were reported to have opposed these meetings. But if a negotiated solution is the objective, it is always best to have the relevant parties around the table.
The G7 released a 43 paragraph declaration following the summit, which has implications for the demarcation of issues covered by the G7/8 and the G20.
Since the elevation of the G20 to be the 'premier forum for international economic cooperation' at the 2009 Pittsburgh summit, there has been speculation about the relationship between the G7/8 and the G20. In addition to the Ukraine, half the G7 statement is devoted to commenting on security trouble spots across the globe: Syria, Libya, Mali and Central African Republic, Iran, North Korea, Middle East, Afghanistan, tensions in the east and South China sea and the kidnapping of the school girls in Nigeria. None of this would be found in a G20 declaration. So a clear demarcation between the two forums is the coverage of geopolitical and security issues.
But the criticism made of the G7 in this area is that it is 'big on words, no new action'. In part, this is because if any progress is to be made, the relevant players should be involved. For example, little progress was expected on Syria without the presence of Russia.
On the economic side, the G7 declaration suggests that issues dealing with the global economy, financial regulation and tax evasion are being left to the G20. The G7 declaration largely endorses the G20's initiatives in these areas. However the G7 does appear to be setting the pace when it comes to energy, climate change and development. It outlines a more ambitious set of objectives and commitments compared with the G20.
What has attracted headlines is the G7 commitment to a 2015 climate treaty, building on the momentum of the recent renewed efforts by the US to curb emissions. Furthermore, G7 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to mobilise US$100 billion per year by 2020 to address the climate mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries. But the wording of the statement reflects tensions in the group. While the declaration says 'we will communicate our intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of the 21st session of the…(COP21) in Paris by the first quarter of 2015', qualifying words are added: 'by those parties ready to do so'. No doubt this was included to accommodate Canada.
The G7 statement will put pressure on Australia to cover climate change at the Brisbane Summit. So far Prime Minister Abbott has said climate change will not be on the G20 agenda because it is an economic summit, although he has conceded that it may be raised. The Brisbane G20 communique would look very odd without some reference to climate change.
So is the G7 back as the world's steering committee? Notwithstanding inevitable tensions within the group, the Brussels summit did demonstrate that, because G7 members are relatively like-minded, they can take positions on issues that would be very difficult in the G20. And every picture of the nine leaders sitting around an 'intimate' small table at the G7 summit stands in stark contrast to the large G20 summits. But the G7 inevitably suffers from the fact that its weight in the global economy has declined, and if leadership is going to be provided on some difficult global issues, then a more representative forum is required.
Photo by Flickr user Number 10.