Wednesday

1st Mar 2017

Opinion

The first G7 summit in Brussels, but not the last?

  • Germany is to lead the G7 group next year (Photo: European Commission)

This week, the leaders of the seven most industrialised countries – the US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and the UK – and the European Union are gathering in Brussels. For the first time since 1998 when Russia became a member of the G8, it will not participate in the meetings.

In response to Russia's annexation of the Crimea, the G7 countries boycotted the G8 summit that would normally take place in Sochi under Russian chairmanship.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The G7 Brussels Summit will be remembered as the summit without Russia, but equally as the first summit in the 40-year existence of the G7/G8 that is hosted by the European Union.

For decades, it was unthinkable that the European institutions would host a G7/G8 summit and chair the meetings.

After all, although it participates in all G8 meetings, the EU has never been recognised as a full member of the club. For this reason, the EU never held the G8 presidency, nor is the presence of the EU reflected in the name of the club – there are nine leaders around the G7 table: the heads of state and government of the G7 countries, European council president Van Rompuy and European commission president Barroso.

Nevertheless, the EU has been claiming for several years that it possesses full G8 membership.

This is not surprising if you consider the difficult road of the EU in the G7/G8. When the G7 was created in the mid-1970s, there was no room for the then European community. France was starkly opposed to its presence and refused to invite it during the first years of the G7.

After strong protest by the European institutions and smaller member states – such as Belgium and the Netherlands – France gave in. The president of the European commission received an invitation, but only for those sessions that fell under its competences, such as international trade.

Even this was not self-evident. One G7 host once 'forgot' to provide a chair for the European representative. On occasion the European commission president was left out of the traditional family photo.

However, due to the European commission's valuable expertise and contribution to the G7 process, it was quickly allowed to participate in other G7 sessions too.

By 1982, the European commission was taking part in all G7 preparatory meetings and summits.

After the implosion of the Soviet Union, the G7 even mandated the European commission to coordinate western aid to Central and Eastern countries. This eventually became the so-called PHARE programme.

But still, the EU never became a full member of the G8, although it has now more or less the same rights as any other G8 country. The only hurdle left was the right to host and chair the summit, which now seems to have been taken as well.

Has the EU now acquired full membership?

It is unlikely that the G7 countries will explicitly confirm this, but this G7 Brussels Summit could set a precedent. The EU might be included in the rotating scheme to hold the G7/G8 presidency. This would mean that another summit in Brussels might take place in 2022 at the earliest, if the G7 or G8 still exists.

A G7/G8 presidency for the EU

Given the informal and flexible nature of the G7/G8, the presidency can have a significant influence on the G7/G8 process.

It is the host leader's prerogative to set the thematic focus of the summit. Certain major issues remain on the agenda for several years, but the presidency usually adds a couple of its own topics as well.

The presidency would increase the EU's political clout. Hence the EU may use a future year at the G7/G8 helm to make its partners subscribe to ambitious goals in the field of climate change or development cooperation.

An upgrade of the EU in the G7 or G8 could also have implications for the EU's status in other international forums.

It might, for example, pave the way for hosting a G20 summit. In contrast to the G7 and G8, the EU is one of the 20 official members of the G20. But in the G20 too, it is deprived of the right to hold the presidency.

Any future EU presidency of the G7, G8 or even G20 entails challenges as well. The EU will for example have to consider how it will involve the EU member states that are not part of the G7 in its preparations for the summit. Can the presidents of the European council and the European commission determine the agenda autonomously or do they have to consult the 28 member states?

Intensive consultation and EU coordination seems incompatible with the informal and flexible G7/G8 process. However non-G7 EU member states also have the right to hold their representatives accountable for their actions.

But before the G7 leaders could possibly meet again in Brussels, it is up to Germany, as holder of the 2015 G7 presidency, to lead the group next year.

Peter Debaere is a post-doctoral researcher at the Ghent Institute for International Studies at Ghent University

Agenda

Obama back in Brussels this WEEK

US President Obama is back in the EU capital this week for a summit of G7 wealthy nations to be dominated by Ukraine.

The Lake Chad Basin crisis

With no end in sight to the "tragedy", humanitarian agencies must call for international political and security engagement, the UN's head of migration says.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 20172018 European Year of Cultural Heritage Will Celebrate European History and Values
  2. UNICEFA Deadly Journey for Children: The Migration Route From North Africa to Europe
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsFreedom of Association and Expression Under Threat in Kazakhstan
  4. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Brussels on March 6th
  5. EURORDISJoin Rare Disease Day and Help Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  7. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  8. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  9. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  10. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  11. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow. Join Us on 23 March
  12. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  5. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  7. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  8. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  9. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  10. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  11. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty