Despite its flaws the G8 summit is a chance for welcome debate
Published 17/06/2013 | 05:00
ORDINARY decent people within a 50-mile radius of the Lough Erne Resort will have asked the question many times already as the security net is drawn tighter and tighter, impacting on daily life.
Others have been asking the question for up to two decades.
And the question is: What is the point of all of this carry-on called the G8 summit?
In the first place, such summit meetings of leaders largely run on rails. Thanks to senior diplomats from all the participating countries, the draft final communique has already been written. Now the seven leaders from the world's leading economic nations plus Russia's leader have come to act out their role. Couldn't they have done all that on the phone?
In the second place, what is the point of this elite club of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the US, Canada, Japan and Russia? Haven't they just come to ensure their interests are served at the expense of the smaller, poorer nations? And, if it is in any way representative of the world's powerhouse economies, why are China and India not included? Why no country from Latin America or Africa?
In the third place, why not get real and call together the great multi-national companies of the globe and let them do what they really do anyway?
And while we're at it, what is Taoiseach Enda Kenny doing in the middle of all of this? Is Buggins's turn, which sees EU Council president Kenny representing the European Union, just a metaphor for all the G8 ballyhoo?
The answer to the first question, the one about summits running on rails and leaders just acting out of roles, is that yes there, at times, is a ring of truth about it. But leaders gathered to discuss huge global topics – such as this summit's tax, transparency trade and the Syrian crisis – would not get very far if they walked in cold. Officials have paved the way with documentation which will structure these talks.
But the leaders still have to agree this draft communique – something which cannot always be taken for granted. Often, in case of failure to agree, the communique can be watered down to meaninglessness. This gathering in Fermanagh will mainly focus on global tax avoidance and the framing of common rules and co-operation to stop it. If it is successful it could be the beginning of something very important.
Another point to remember here is that on the summit's second day, the eight leaders will withdraw to talk together without officials. Such encounters are vital.
Within living memory, all of these countries involved have gone to war with one another, with appalling consequences for the entire globe. On this occasion the others will listen with interest to Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe who is trying to haul the world's third largest economy out of decades of recession with expansionist economic policies.
The next question – about the unrepresentative nature of this elite club of eight – again carries more than a ring of truth. But some explanations lie in the history of the G8 which began in 1975 with informal meetings trying to find a response to the oil crisis of the early 1970s. By the mid-1970s it had become the G6, then Canada joined in 1976 and Russia in 1997.
The world has changed a lot since the early 1970s and the structure of the G8 does not reflect that. Many people now argue that the so-called 'Group of 20', increasingly called the G20, should now eclipse the G8.
The G20 gathers finance ministers and central bank governors from a wider and more representative range of nations, accounts for more than 80pc of global wealth, and is on the go since 1999. But for now, the G8 for all its many flaws, is still a valuable exercise.
There is a great similarity in our third and fourth questions thanks to a common trend of defeatism and inferiority complex. It is sadly true that the world's great corporations are calling the shots in some very real ways. But that creates all the more need for leaders of democratically elected governments to speak together and address the needs of their people beyond the narrow goals of big business.
As to Enda Kenny's presence at this august gathering, let's prefer the word serendipity to the grim phrase Buggins's turn. It is true that the Taoiseach would not be present without the coincidence that Ireland currently holds the EU presidency, and thus represents the European Union in a largely observer role.
But Mr Kenny's presence at such a gathering taking place on the island of Ireland is an important opportunity to speak to world media about this country. It is particularly important that the Taoiseach gets a chance to address the issue of global tax avoidance by the great corporations from an Irish standpoint.
So, on balance, this G8 club has more than its share of flaws and problems – but it is still far better that it is there. On a more local level, the people on both sides of the Border will just have to grit their teeth and look forward to Wednesday when normality will gradually slope back.