L’Aquila, the Italian mountain town, is preparing this week to host the leaders of the Group of 8 countries, but the guest list is in fact comprised of somewhere between 39 to 44 representatives from dozens of other countries. The leaders of the G-8 (the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia) will be there to greet representatives from the “G-8 plus 5” countries (China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa) as well as Egypt, Australia, Indonesia and South Korea—all countries not part of the original Group of 8 but nonetheless invited only to attend parts of the summit.
The meeting hardly lives up to its billing as a “G-8 summit.” Maybe this is a sign of the times. Amid Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s indiscretions, chaotic preparations leading up to the summit, and the alphabet soup of G-groupings, little that is concrete is likely to be accomplished.
At a time when challenges are global, the exclusivity of the G-8 is less of an asset and more of a drain on its legitimacy—especially when the G-8 leaders are obliged to invite so many of their counterparts to claim any real legitimacy. On the agenda for this year’s summit are a plethora of issues that require more than G-8 leadership: financial regulation, discussions of a new reserve currency, reform of the International Monetary Fund, trade, global climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, dealing with North Korea and Afghanistan, to name a few. On each, the upcoming summit provides a platform to discuss G-8 policy, but instituting effective change will require other key players to buy-in to common solutions to address global challenges.
Perhaps the G-8’s only claim to global leadership nowadays is the world’s patron for foreign aid. This would not be a bad claim to fame, especially when the economic crisis is ravaging the already vulnerable in developing countries. At the receiving end of the negative repercussions of declining trade flows, volatile commodity prices, falling remittances and uncertain aid flows are real people that are struggling for their day to day livelihoods.
But here too the G-8 has faltered, especially amid the economic crisis. More than half way to the deadline of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015—ending poverty and hunger, instituting universal education and gender equality, improving child and maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, promoting environmental sustainability and leveraging global partnerships to achieve these goals—progress has slowed and in some cases even reversed. Aid for the Education for All initiative also has declined, resulting in cuts for government programs. In this economic climate, even those governments that are dedicated to achieving universal primary school education for all will be stymied in their efforts because of a lack of resources. Moreover, the G-8 countries are seriously behind on meeting the commitments made at the 2005 Gleneagles summit, which made supporting Africa’s economic development a priority.
This faltering in aid has immediate consequences, but declining expenditures on health and education also bear long-term consequences for economic development in developing countries. Poverty and underdevelopment serve as fertile grounds for pollution, lawlessness, and violent conflict as well as international crime and extremism. These problems have serious consequences for industrialized countries as well.
Unless the G-8 can deliver on its promises to assist developing countries—particularly in this time of economic turmoil—there is little hope in reviving some its lost legitimacy. And even then, a forum without all the key players directly involved in the deliberations will always lack in legitimacy as an appropriate body for global governance. So some, like the Italian hosts of the summit, may continue to dismiss critiques of the G-8, but one has to ask whether it makes sense to talk about strategy to win the game with only half the team present.
The meeting of the Group of 20 leaders in Washington D.C. last year and then again at the London Summit this past spring is evidence of a logical and almost inevitable evolution of the G-8 into a more inclusive and legitimate forum.
With two summits under its belt, and a third one planned for September, the international community seems to have accepted the leaders forum of the Group of 20 as an appropriate body to effectively address the pressing challenges confronting the globe. It’s time for all the members of the G-8 to do the same—officially.
Sabina Dewan is Associate Director of International Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about our economic policy proposals go to the Economy page on our website.