Despite the display of bonhomie at last weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall, UK, some observers wonder if the annual forum is actually cohesive and relevant to Europe today. Comprising the majority of the bloc — four of the seven nations — European countries are increasingly determined to set their own agenda on the global stage.
Although leaders of the UK, Germany, France and Italy clearly welcome a return to civil and traditional diplomacy by their US counterpart, they are no longer entirely fulsome in their endorsement of some US suggestions. Following rifts the previous four years and a changing geopolitical landscape, they are no longer in complete lockstep with the US when it comes to international relations.
French President Emmanuel Macron said as much before the annual conclave got underway at a seaside resort at Carbis Bay, Cornwall. On June 10 he warned against a “return to (the logic) of the Cold War”.
“Europe is not simply an object or a territory for the distribution of influence,” said the outspoken French leader. “We are a subject of international geopolitics and we need to assert ourselves as such.”
Founded to provide a united front for cooperation by leading Western democracies following the oil crisis of 1973, today the Group of Seven, as it is now known, includes the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Japan. It competes with a range of organisations, forums and initiatives for relevance on the world stage, including the European Union, the G20, Nato, the UN and the Paris Climate Accord, as well as a host of smaller security, economic and political groups.
And its constituency can only be described as elite. With just 10 per cent of the world’s population, G7 member countries together have about 60 per cent of the global net wealth and generate some 30 per cent of worldwide GDP, though the ratios have continued to shrink since the turn of the century. It has no secretariat or central administrative body.
As well, many wonder how effective any globally influential organisation could be when it does not include China, the world’s second-largest economy and most populous country, and India, the second-most populous nation.
In an attempt to address that inequity, the G7 invites guest countries to attend. This year those included India, whose Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the session by teleconference to call for solidarity to prevent future pandemics, and a “one Earth, one health” approach to deal with the coronavirus pandemic globally.
As with the G20’s Global Health Summit in Rome last month, the G7 stopped short of support for lifting patent protection on Covid-19 vaccines, but did pledge to supply 1 billion doses worldwide.
So what else did Europe support at the conclusion of the G7 summit?
In addition to committing to distribute 1 billion vaccine doses worldwide, European leaders enthusiastically endorsed a “green” recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and backed a US plan for global infrastructure called Build Back Better, proposed as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hopes a new G7 task force can present its first infrastructure projects in developing countries in 2022.
“For countries in need of development, only concrete projects count,” she said. “I hope that we will be able to present such projects during the next G7 summit, which will be in Germany.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi highlighted “the need to allocate an important share of investment to green recovery”. He said Italy is in full support of the move with 30 per cent of recovery funding made available for the “ecological transition”.
Europe also pledged $100 billion annually for developing countries to support them in their fight against climate change, for which Germany raised its contribution promises.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the G7 would demonstrate the value of democracy and human rights to the rest of the world and help “the world’s poorest countries to develop themselves in a way that is clean and green and sustainable”.
The G7 also backed a minimum tax of at least 15 per cent on large multinational companies to stop corporations from using tax havens to avoid taxes.
As leaders commented on their agreements, groups of surfers and kayakers gathered on the water of Carbis Bay to protest what they called “green washing”. They say there has been a lot of politically correct talk, but efforts on climate change are too little too late.
But all things start with an idea and perhaps a promise. Climate activists will be satisfied when real action is taken and enforceable targets set to eradicate to the use coal and other fossil fuels.
Recent proposals to rethink the G7 to make it more representative of the modern world order include creation of what was called the G7+, with France, Germany and Italy replaced by a common euro-zone representative, making space for China and India. Canada would be replaced by Brazil.
But if the G7 is effective, part of that could be its very elite nature. It seems unapologetically exclusive, perhaps making action more tangible through its very smallness, a streamlined élan of sorts. Add the dignified presence of the British Queen and it makes for a colourful conclave.
What remains to be seen today is how much good it can bring to a troubled world.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are journalists based in Milan
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