One of the continuing issues of this G8 L’Aquila Summit is how, or if, the structure of the G8, G8+G5 and G20 process is about to be transformed. With the appearance in November last year of the G20 Leaders Summit followed by the London April G20 Leaders Summit and now with the announced September 25th Pittsburgh G20 Leaders Summit, experts and the media especially have been waiting for both the demise of the G8 and the presumed crowning of the G20 as the sole Gx forum for global leaders.

CIGI Colleagues - Andrew Cooper, Gregory Chin with the assistance of Andrew Schrumm and Chatham House colleagues Paola Subacchi with the assistance of Ruth Davis have just completed an excellent stay and fine reportage at the L’Aquila Summit at: “Tracking the G8 L’Aquila Summit” - a visit well worth taking.  But the question of architecture remains top-of the-mind question for global governance.

And it would appear to be a ‘decision not yet made’.  Notwithstanding the almost universal view that the G20 will emerge as the successor to the the now ‘illegitimate’ G8 process there remains ‘no decision.’

A number of threads remain.  The Heiligendamm Process - what was defined by the Germans as a structured dialogue - has been continued for two more years by the G8 plus G5 Leaders.  This process - now renamed the HAP (Heiligendamm L’Aquila Process) will continue a policy dialogue with a number of Working Groups with the leaders of the G8 + G5 (Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Mexico) announcing that they:

…. will review progress at the end of the first year on the basis of a substantive report to Leaders for guidance at the Summit in Muskoka in 2010. A concluding report will be presented at the French Summit in 2011. This Process, which is a policy dialogue aiming at strengthening mutual understanding in the spirit of the work already undertaken, will focus on areas of common interest to the Partners, be forward-looking and produce tangible results.

Quietly supported by the OECD Support Unit led by its director, Ulrich Benterbusch, this policy dialogue has provided a setting where these countries have worked to, “enhance trust and confidence among the dialogue partners as well as develop common understanding on global issues.” A final Report of the HDP was issued at this Summit.

But the ‘final’ architecture remains unclear.  It is evident that the Italians sought to extend the reach of the G8 core by including the G5 on day two (the Italians even added 1 - Egypt to this G5 group).  On day three an even wider network of leaders including many from Africa were included.  The Italians called this a ‘variable geometry’ calling together those countries - and their leaders - that could best address the problem - whether climate change, development or food safety.  But variable geometry or not, the core G8 remained.

Evident or not, it’s not inevitable that the G8 will be subsumed by the G20.  It may just be the accidental consequence of the sequence of the current G8 Presidency but those who have recently held that annual rotating post have generally not been enthusiastic over the prospect of G8 enlargement.  Japan has favored the informality and influence of the smaller G8 and has been concerned that enlargement will inevitably include China ending Japan’s sole Asia representation role.  Italy has favored variable geometry but retaining the G8 core.  Canada has now assumed the Presidency of the G8 and has just initiated planning for the 2010 G8 Muskoka Summit. Canada too has been cool recently to expansion.  A loss of influence is inevitably arise for Canada and other ’smaller’ G8 countries with the expansion of the G8 to a G13 or G20.

The key to architectural change is the United States.  It would seem that a clear statement from the Obama Administration favoring one structure or the other would likely influence members of the G8 - especially those less enthusiastic over expansion.  Early in the Administration’s life, it appeared that it would review and express a view on the current global governance architecture even as early as the G8.  But following the G20 London Summit, the Administration signaled that it’s priority for the G8 and the newly announced G20 Pittsburgh Summit was outcome and collective decisions and that the Administration would take no position on the future Gx process until after Pittsburgh.

Yet the tea leaves have been stirred - if only a little - in the concluding press conference by President Obama on Friday.  Take in what the President had to say to a question clearly focused on the Gx process and future architecture:

Q President, it seems that yesterday morning you had a very spirited and lively discussion within — with the G8-plus-5-plus-1, ignited by President Lula objection to the format, to the adequacy of the G8 as a forum. And, well, I would like — what was your argument in this discussion and whether or not you have the feeling that the days of the G8 are over? And a very — a second question, but very light, after six months wheeling and dealing with these international forums — G20, NATO, and G8 — do you find it more complicated or less complicated to deal with that than with the American Congress? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the — on the second question it’s not even close. I mean, Congress is always tougher. But in terms of the issue of the Gasoline and what’s the appropriate international structure and framework, I have to tell you in the discussions I listened more than I spoke, although what I said privately was the same thing that I’ve said publicly, which is that there is no doubt that we have to update and refresh and renew the international institutions that were set up in a different time and place. Some — the United Nations — date back to post-World War II. Others, like the G8, are 30 years old.
And so there’s no sense that those institutions can adequately capture the enormous changes that have taken place during those intervening decades. What, exactly, is the right format is a question that I think will be debated.
One point I did make in the meeting is that what I’ve noticed is everybody wants the smallest possible group, smallest possible organization that includes them (emphasis added).  So if they’re the 21st-largest nation in the world, then they want the G21, and think it’s highly unfair if they’ve been cut out.
What’s also true is that part of the challenge here is revitalizing the United Nations, because a lot of energy is going into these various summits and these organizations in part because there’s a sense that when it comes to big, tough problems the U.N. General Assembly is not always working as effectively and rapidly as it needs to. So I’m a strong supporter of the U.N. — and I said so in this meeting — but it has to be reformed and revitalized, and this is something that I’ve said to the Secretary General.
One thing I think is absolutely true is, is that for us to think we can somehow deal with some of these global challenges in the absence of major powers — like China, India, and Brazil — seems to me wrongheaded (emphasis added). So they are going to have to be included in these conversations. To have entire continents like Africa or Latin America not adequately represented in these major international forums and decision-making bodies is not going to work.

So I think we’re in a transition period. We’re trying to find the right shape that combines the efficiency and capacity for action with inclusiveness. And my expectation is, is that over the next several years you’ll see an evolution and we’ll be able to find the right combination. (emphasis added)

The one thing I will be looking forward to is fewer summit meetings, because, as you said, I’ve only been in office six months now and there have been a lot of these. And I think that there’s a possibility of streamlining them and making them more effective. The United States obviously is an absolutely committed partner to concerted international action, but we need to I think make sure that they’re as productive as possible.

While the reference to UN revitalization comes as something as a surprise, and given the last effort to revise the governance structures in 2005, I would think even more frustrating - and unlikely - than the Gx reform process, it is evident that the President and the Administration is giving thought to the future shape of global governance.  Look for expansion - and possibly soon.

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.