The outcomes of the 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany illustrate both the promise and the limitations of this elite global governance club. The club's current membership reflects the international realities of the mid-1970s. Indeed, as is increasingly recognized, the G8 is facing a double crisis of legitimacy and efficiency. The group's under-representation of the global South (via regional participation) erodes its ability to set priorities for the international community and detracts from its capacity to mobilize governments to broker solutions to pressing global problems. Its inability to deliver effective results on an issue-specific basis, whether economic or foreign policy oriented, has added to the tensions surrounding this ‘democratic deficit.'

As a number of big emergent countries become increasingly engaged global actors, the rationale for widening the summit process has been strengthened. A broadened G8 focus on social/developmental and environmental issues in turn reinforces the need for a more geographically and culturally representative membership. Agenda expansion, in fact, has created a situation in which not only is it difficult for host leaders to present a strictly economic-oriented focus for the annual meeting (as the shift in Angela Merkel's priorities for the 2007 summit fully indicate) but also many of the group's perceived successes are seen as relating to development, such as debt relief and the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.

Widening the Group

There have been many different proposals for reform of the G8. One of the most well known of these is Paul Martin's ambitious plan to transform the G8 in composition and, indirectly, on issues. Martin's L20 plan - L for Leaders - was based on the idea of the annual G20 Finance Ministers' Forum which Martin had helped to establish in the 1990s. The G20 has been recognized as having many strengths, including a diverse membership (northern and southern countries), a manageable size for decision making and a relatively informal structure that encourages open and constructive dialogue. The L20 would replicate the G20 by annually bringing together the heads of states from these 20 member countries in order to deal with global issues.

Martin's proposal, however, called for reform of the ‘big bang' kind. Since the failed attempt in September 2004 to have a meeting in New York on the prospects for an L20 - on the sidelines of the UN Millennium Summit, and to use the topic of pandemics as the catalyst - due to speculated opposition from President Bush, it has become clear that reform is more likely to be achieved through an incremental process.

In the months prior to Heiligendamm, the focus turned to the possibility of extending club membership to an inner group of candidates, being located in the so-called G5-PLUS or Outreach Group (O5). In recognition of their stature as major economic players and increasingly engaged global actors, the O5: China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, have been invited for the past number of years to participate in expanded discussions on selected topics at the annual summit. Targeting relations with this group as the impetus for reform was promoted by both members of the German coalition government and the government of Tony Blair, with Blair highlighting the idea at the 2007 World Economic Forum at Davos.

The Outreach 5 and the B(R)ICSAM

Traditionally, it has been the prerogative of the summit's host leader to decide to whom the ‘outreach branch' is extended. At the 2003 Evian summit, then-President Jacques Chirac invited several of the big emerging countries to participate on a diffuse agenda, with items including sustainable development, health and water resources. While at Gleneagles, Scotland two years later, Blair's government combined O5 participation on climate change and energy security with African participation on debt relief and development assistance.

Although Russia was reluctant to invite the O5 in 2006, their eventual involvement indicated that host prerogative had been trumped by the logic of their inclusion. Additionally, concerns about Russia's ‘managed democracy' had weakened the argument that this was a club of democracies, opening the door not only to robust democracies such as India and Brazil but also to authoritarian China.

In terms of membership, Blair's initiative made a clear choice on a permanent outreach group that is very different from the ad hoc approach adopted since 2000. Significantly, the O5 cluster are all members of the B(R)ICSAM group - the ‘R' standing for Russia, already a member of the G8 - of large emerging economies and/or regional powerhouses.1 An extension of the growth-oriented Goldman Sachs' BRICs platform, the importance of this particular group is underscored not only by the logic of global economics but also diplomacy. From impressive GDP/Purchasing Power Parity indicators to active membership roles in a range of international organizations and regional arrangements, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Non-Aligned Movement, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the G20 Finance, this group has used a combination of structural strength and diplomatic skill to embed itself firmly into global political and economic arenas. It is by no means clear any longer that the G8 can effectively manage the global economy - or re-shape globalization - without the presence of the B(R)ICSAM countries at the table.

This combination of economic and diplomatic rationale for focusing reform efforts vis-à-vis the inclusion of the B(R)ICSAM group was expanded upon by a close observer: "There is a general consensus concerning the regional and global role of China, India, and Brazil. South Africa gets the nod because of its active global governance policy...although there are major reservations on the continent of Africa concerning South Africa's claim to a leading role. Mexico's claims are less obvious. Presumably US interests come into play here: the USA wishes to provide its neighbor with a leading position in the global hierarchy. Having said that, by virtue of its OECD and NAFTA membership Mexico is suitable for a bridging role between North and South and in addition has strategic significance as a major oil exporter." 2

Furthermore, the reform attraction of a limited, stable, and status-equivalent group via the B(R)ICSAM model is reinforced by its simplicity. Procedurally, this model cuts out much of the debate about membership for the L20 beyond a core grouping. Calls for rotational membership, or some form of delegation, are made moot. There are also design benefits of sticking to small numbers, in that consensus on complex issues (hard enough with a G13) will increase with an L20. The ability to solve crises - as the UN has often found out - is not enhanced by simply building a more inclusive decision-making process.

Looking Forward - The Heiligendamm Process

By the 2007 summit, it was clear that major international challenges could not be addressed without ongoing cooperation of the large countries of the Global South. The idea of these emergent economies acting as ‘anchors' in their respective regions for the G8's activities continues to grow in popularity. Even former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who was one of the originators of the idea of an annual summit of likeminded, powerful nations in the mid-1970s, came out Regaining Legitimacy: G8 in favour of G8 expansion as a requirement for the group's continued global influence. Tony Blair chimed in to the debate claiming that the breakthrough on climate change at the summit would not have been possible without the ongoing G8 plus O5 dialogue that had evolved out of the 2005 Gleneagles summit.

While expansion was not technically on the agenda, the big story out of Heiligendamm was the G8's significant move to formalize its relationship with the O5 through the establishment of a structured forum for on-going dialogue. In practical terms, the new dialogue process will include a focus on four topics: the promotion of innovation, the enhancement of free investment and corporate social responsibility; common responsibilities in respect to African development; and knowledge exchange on technologies to fight climate change.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has been tasked with facilitating the ‘Heiligendamm Process' over the next two years. Whether this means the establishment of a permanent secretariat for the G8 is unclear and is just one of many questions that will remain in the forefront of G8 analyses. Nonetheless, it was the first time the G8, which is basically an informal setting for discussing policy rather than making binding agreements, assigned the OECD, a formalised multilateral institution, with a job of this kind. Yet, given the OECD's consensual priority-setting process, the organization's 23 non-G8 members could certainly influence the actual amount of resources and energy invested into the ‘Heiligendamm Process.'

Does the ‘Heiligendamm Process' mean that the G8 is willing to consider moving from extending offers of outreach to those of membership in a G13? Alternatively, do these countries even want to be part of an enlarged club? All of these countries have increasingly diverse options outside of the G8, including championing the traditional sense of solidarity with the developing world and emerging regional associations. In this sense, the window of opportunity to socialize China vis-à-vis democratic governance structures may be closing as it may soon be the case that China decides it doesn't need to bother with the G8.

Beyond Process: Deliverables

While the 2007 summit may be remembered for advances in process rather than substance, the necessity of achieving policy deliverables as an essential element of the G8's instrumental legitimacy cannot be overlooked. Even in terms of traditional economic concerns, such as exhorting action from China on currency revaluation, the G8 has tended to be stronger on words than on actions. The broadening of issue focus in the last five years has created even greater pressure for the G8 to have more than just declaratory impact on foreign policy (Middle East) and socio-development matters (African development and climate change).

The changing of topics discussed at the annual summit due to the informal structure of each host country being responsible for identifying the nature of the items to appear on the agenda exacerbates the problem of substantial delivery. Africa, which was placed by Tony Blair at the front and centre of the 2005 Gleneagles summit, has been slipping down the G8 priority list ever since.

At Heiligendamm, African leaders (who met with the G8 leaders early on the second day of the summit), along with their supporters in the NGO community, were simply trying to hang on to the $50 billion in development assistance that they were promised at Gleneagles. It was obvious that the G8 had adopted a more distant, guarded approach to African development than it had at recent summits. This year's leaders preferred to affirm existing commitments rather than establish new ones, and avoided attaching new benchmarks to existing goals. For instance, while the G8 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to nearly double annual aid to Africa and provide "universal access" to AIDS treatment by the year 2010, they offered neither an implementation plan for these goals nor any measurable spending targets for the interim.

What is not as widely appreciated is how the G8 has slipped back on the health agenda. The much-publicized commitment to provide $60 billion over "the coming years" for AIDS, TB and malaria is one mired in mystery. It is not clear, for instance, what deadline the G8 leaders have in mind for this goal. Nor is it the direct result of summit discussions, with the $60 billion figure being reached as a matching response by the G8 to President Bush's unilateral, pre-summit pledge of $30 billion for the global fight against AIDS. The figure is to be delivered over an unspecified time period and includes existing spending on the three diseases. What's more, the G8 leaders have not indicated that the funding is meant exclusively for Africa, thus diluting its significance for the region. $60 billion to Regaining Legitimacy: G8 fight African disease is impressive; $60 billion to fight worldwide disease warrants a lower level of accolade.

On the Road to Legitimacy?

The G8 is showing signs of embracing an expanded membership, which its supporters hope will reinforce its legitimacy and efficiency in the new international architecture. In terms of improving substance delivery and addressing the ‘democratic deficit', this development seems promising. The simple acknowledgement that the G8 is incapable of creating a relevant strategy for climate change without the participation of major CO2 emitters, such as India or China, or leading alternative energy suppliers, such as Brazil, is certainly a step in the right direction.

Questions surrounding the extent of the membership on offer (equal partner vs. part-time invitee) and the actual interest of the O5 in participating within the club structure animate not only the internal G8 debate on expansion, but also the discussions within and amongst the O5 countries. The O5 held its own strategic meeting in Berlin prior to the summit and some national observers within these countries have even advocated for the creation of a parallel and distinctive O5 summit. The extent to which the O5 countries are willing and able to take on insider status will ultimately determine not only the relevance of the G8 but also their capacity to push the global political architecture to be more inclusive.


1. Andrew F. Cooper, "The Logic of the B(R)ICSAM Model for G8 Reform," CIGI Policy Brief in International Governance, No. 1, May 2007.

2. Thomas Fues, "Global Governance Beyond the G8: Reform Prospects for the Summit Architecture," Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, 2/2007, 11-24.

The mission of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs is to promote an understanding of international affairs and Canada's role in a changing world by providing interested Canadians with a non-partisan, nationwide forum for informed discussion, analysis, and debate. The views expressed in International Insights are those of the authors.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.