Fiddling as the world burns - the G8 summit as seen by Oxfam International and Ucodep, in Rome. Photo : Ucodep.

G8 needs a gee up

Haphazard organization, inconsistent agenda, the Italian PM’s derelict leadership: the G8 now getting under way in L'Aquila, Italy, is the object of widespread and acerbic criticism. “The summit is no longer representative of the current economic scene,” objects Brazilian president Lula in an interview with Le Monde. More generally, the European press wonders whether the G8 still serves any purpose at all.

Published on 8 July 2009 at 17:25
Fiddling as the world burns - the G8 summit as seen by Oxfam International and Ucodep, in Rome. Photo : Ucodep.

Officially, everything is for the best in the best of all possible G8s. “In realty, the Italian prime minister’s outward optimism is but a façade,” writes the Corriere della Sera. “Berlusconi arrives at the summit after months of scandals about his private affairs. His dream of playing a mediator amongst the eight economic powers looks increasingly improbable. And some other leaders, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have already expressed a preference for an expanded G20 that includes China and India.”

Writing in The Guardian, Larry Elliot denounces this G8 summit as a “cynical shambles”, likens Silvio Berlusconi to a “bargain basement Benny Hill”, and speculates that “Italy may also suffer the humiliation of being ejected from the G8 in favour of Spain”. This hypothesis is widely echoed in the Spanish press. El Mundo underscores the fact that Spain has shown itself more reactive than Italy on the idea – espoused by Barack Obama – of a new pact to guarantee global food security. “This fact, combined with the slipshod preparation of the meeting [...] have lent credence to the G8 members who suggest admitting Spain”, which enjoys a higher per-capita GDP and is more generous in terms of foreign aid. “But The Guardian admits Spain’s joining the G8 seems hardly likely,” points out Público. “If Italy were to be replaced, the US would prefer to have an emerging economy join the group.”

Above and beyond the disparagement in the European press of the slapdash organisation of the G8 meeting and of the Italian prime minister’s derelict leadership, it is the utility, even the very existence, of this summit that it is being called into question. In The Guardian, Elliot argues that Silvio Berlusconi himself has done his part in delegitimising the G8: “Berlusconi has done himself no favours by asking his guests to help rebuild L'Aquila after April's earthquake” without appealing to the competent international organizations, and “while cutting Italy's bilateral aid budget [for developing countries] by 56%”. In so doing, “the Italian PM has stopped pretending that the G8 serves any purpose”.

In an interview in Le Monde, Luiz Ignacio da Silva opines that “the G8 summit has lost its raison d'être". The Group of 8, which is supposed to represent the most industrialised countries (Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States), is actually no longer representative of the current economic scene and lacks the requisite legitimacy to discuss what measures to implement to cope with the global crisis. So the Brazilian president calls for the G8 to be replaced by the G20, which, he says, should become a sort of permanent institution and should also involve ministers of the economy and foreign affairs as well as representatives of the central banks. “Democracy is in need of reinforced multilateral forums,” argues Lula.

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In Germany, the Tageszeitung is “alarmed” to see that, since the first summit of the big industrial nations back in 1975, “we really haven’t made any headway”. “Now as then, we face the threat of a systemic crisis of capitalism.” And the causes are comparable: economic crisis, rising oil prices, unstable currencies, limited growth. What is more, “the latent currency crisis is not even on the agenda, although Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz has recommended replacing the dollar as the standard currency.” In view of the unabated currency speculation, the US economist suggests calming down the markets by holding a Bretton Woods II. But such a proposal only interests India, China and Brazil, the G8’s “guest” countries. “Hence the danger that this crash might prove the crash before the next crash,” concludes the Tageszeitung.

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