The G20 is the self-described “premier forum for international economic cooperation.” With the creation of the G20 at the leaders’ level, a clear line was drawn between “insiders” and “outsiders.” Like the G8 before it, some of those excluded from the new club perceive it as having a deep legitimacy problem. The G20 has been assailed with such sharp epithets as “international gang rule” (Åslund, 2009) and “one of the greatest setbacks since World War II” (Støre, 2010).

Hyperbole aside, there is justifiable concern, given decisions made by G20 leaders carry consequences for the whole world, that concerted effort is required to ensure that the views and interests of non-participating governments are considered, and that other key stakeholders, such as business and civil society, are engaged during the summit preparatory process. To improve its legitimacy, the G20 needs wider global buy-in to resolve its “inclusiveness/exclusiveness conundrum” (Heinbecker, 2011: 4).

Membership of the G20 was first established in 1999, when finance ministers and central bank governors of the 20 leading economies met in response to the Asian financial crisis. The membership structure was retained when the group was elevated to the leaders’ level in 2008. There are no explicit criteria for permanent membership in the forum at the leaders’ level, and, various attempts notwithstanding, there is no easy way to establish a satisfactory criterion or weighting for G20 membership.

At summit meetings, member nations speak only for themselves and not for their regions. To improve representation without overcrowding the room, it has become standard practice for the summit host to extend invitations to five non-members and/or regional representatives. In this way, the host ensures some degree of broader representation. At Cannes, France is inviting Equatorial Guinea, the current chair of the Africa Union; Ethiopia, chair of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development; Singapore, representing the Global Governance Group (3G), with 27 member countries; the United Arab Emirates, chair of the Gulf Cooperation Council; and Spain.

The precise role of invited guests is unclear. They may engage in the G20’s working groups — all of this year’s invitees took part in the recent G20 development meeting, for example — but they do not have agenda-setting power or sway over the final communiqués. After all, the Leaders’ Declarations issued at the close of each summit commit the leaders of the G20, not the invited guests. Nor are non-members bound by pledges made at past summits.

There is value in having regional representatives present when mutual interests are at play, as they can strengthen the legitimacy of the G20 and enrich the discussion with fresh perspectives. Given that there are no agreed criteria for selecting the “guests,” the heads of regional organizations from around the world should be made permanent guests to guarantee their presence at future summits. Other guest invitations should be reassessed. Spain, for example, has attended every leaders’ G20 summit since the first one in Washington in 2008, enjoying the privilege of a “permanent guest.” Does Spain need to be at every summit?

With employment on the agenda this year, France has made the International Labour Organization a permanent invitee at the G20 by granting it “permanent guest” status. Several intergovernmental and international organizations have typically earned a seat at the table for technical or functional reasons. The G20 itself possesses no permanent secretariat. The International Monetary Fund acts as technical adviser and supervises the G20 Mutual Assessment Process, the World Bank Group is involved in moving forward the G20’s infrastructure agenda, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and World Trade Organization support the work of the G20 with analysis and reporting, while the Financial Stability Board coordinates financial regulatory initiatives. The United Nations has convened several informal plenary meetings on the G20 to promote interaction between the two entities and brief interested member states. When he attends the summits, the UN Secretary-General does not have a formal mandate to represent the G172 at the summits, but non-G20 members, through the 3G, for example, are working to build bridges with the G20.

G20 outreach, however, should not be limited to dealings with international and intergovernmental organizations. While President Sarkozy has conducted a variety of forms of consultation — with the Africa Progress Panel, Academies of Science of the G8 and G20 countries, Bill Gates, non-government organizations (NGOs), and Club of Madrid, for instance — they have generated few communiqués and even fewer headlines. By contrast, Korea did a far better job of promoting its G20 consultations with business and civil society in 2010. Even Russia’s President Putin gained considerable attention when he met with NGOs in preparation for the St. Petersburg G8 Summit in 2006. While President Sarkozy understands that there are many actors who have a contribution to make, his consultations have lacked the transparency and attention necessary to reduce the legitimacy gap between the G20 and broader society.

The perceived legitimacy of the work of the G20 could be improved through a global relations strategy. The G20 could do worse than model its approach on the OECD. To strengthen the global relevance and impact of its activities, the OECD has developed external engagement strategies and frameworks for interaction, which include an External Relations Committee to monitor cooperation with non-members and other international organizations, and Enhanced Engagement programs with non-members to promote participation in OECD work.[1] Permanent outreach mechanisms will help break down the exclusion that non-G20 members feel.

Works Cited

Åslund, Anders (2009). “The Group of 20 must be stopped,” Financial Times, November 26.

Heinbecker, Paul (2011). The Future of the G20 and its Place in Global Governance. Waterloo: CIGI. Available at

Støre, Jonas Gahr (2010). “Norway Takes Aim at G-20,” Speigel Online, June 22.

[1] These strategies are published online, see:

The perceived legitimacy of the work of the G20 could be improved through a global relations strategy.

Part of Series

As leaders of the G20 nations prepare for their summit at Cannes, France on November 3-4, CIGI experts offer policy analysis and prescriptions on the most critical issues amid growing uncertainty about the global economy and the G20's effectiveness as an international policy forum.