Sunday

5th Feb 2023

Opinion

Time to dump the G7 - it's a relic of the past

  • A G7 meeting in the Netherlands in 2014, to discuss the Russian invasion of Crimea. Seven years later, Russia is still in Crimea, and only Merkel remains of those leaders (Photo: Wikimedia)

Dormant during the Covid-19 lockdown, the Group of Seven (G7) is determined to get back in the driver's seat of global governance.

G7 foreign and development ministers are meeting in-person in post-lockdown London on Monday (3 May) - their first face-to-face encounter in two years.

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A mid-June G7 summit is also on the cards, with US president Joe Biden set to travel to Cornwall, and then to Brussels, to finally shake hands with America's best friends.

It is good to see leaders of the world's self-styled top industrialised powers coming together in these challenging times.

It would be even better if the G7 and their encounters still mattered.

The truth is brutally simple: The G7 is a relic of the past. It deserves an emotional and respectful adieu but should be taken off life support.

Donald Trump almost killed it by insulting both friend and foe. Biden, however, is on a mission to give the group a new lease of life. Or better still create a so-called "D10" Group of Democracies to counter authoritarianism.

Both ideas are likely to backfire.

Reviving the G7 or creating a D10 will only encourage more strife and division in an already-divided world.

Instead, the US leader should use his time, energy and skills to start thinking of other, more inclusive, ways of making sure complex global challenges are tackled efficiently and effectively.

He could give more teeth to international bodies like the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization or channel his enthusiasm into giving more oomph to the more inclusive G20.

Think outside comfort zone

Or just like he did with the recent climate summit attended by over 40 nations as well as representatives from international organizations and business, Biden could instruct his very team to start thinking of other ways of venturing outside the G7 comfort zone.

To be fair, Britain as the current G7 chair is trying to partially change the group's "us" and "them" state of mind.

As host of the London meeting, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab has sent a generous invitation to the leaders of India, Australia, Korea, South Africa, and the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to "to join parts" of the meeting as special guests, presumably online.

Also, with Turkey, Russia, China, Iran and a few others now clearly identified as enemies of the West, Raab says his intention is to show "how the world's biggest democracies work together to ensure equitable access to vaccines, build back better from the pandemic, support girls in the poorest countries get a good quality education and agree ambitious action to tackle climate change."

Sadly, however, neither the London meeting, nor its partially-expanded list of participants - nor the invariably wordy communique likely to come out of the encounter - are likely to demonstrate the power of democracies to a less-fortunate world.

Too many G7 members, as well as some of their guests, are in no position to lecture others on the rule of law, respect for minorities and freedom of the press.

Raab's hopes of using the G7 meeting to demonstrate the enduring lustre of democracies may also be dashed by the many scandals swirling around his boss, Boris Johnson.

Instead of showing off to others, G7 countries should do more to strengthen their own liberal norms and standards, starting with the need for more accountability, less favouritism and paying more attention to citizens' demands for racial equity and justice.

They could also step up their so-far disappointing and delayed response to appeals for help from India as it struggles with an unprecedented Covid crisis.

Even more importantly, they should agree to repeated demands from India and South Africa – now joined by about 80 other countries – to back a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines that would allow countries to manufacture treatments locally and accelerate the global vaccination effort.

Renewal is needed to keep up with the times. Set up in the 1970s, the G7 harks back to a simpler era when the US, Italy, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, and Britain did indeed dominate the world economy and could shape the global political agenda.

Today's world is more complex - even if America is back.

The world is no longer interested in watching from the sidelines while a small group of countries play show-and-tell. Partly, China's newfound self-confidence, assertiveness and financial heft have changed the global balance of power.

Also, while Trump looked away for four long years, countries of all sizes - big, medium-sized and even small - discovered an intoxicating sense of agency and empowerment. They are now forging new regional and sub-regional coalitions.

Powered by digitalisation, businesses and civil society groups are also creating their own networks of power and influence which can no longer be ignored.

As countries struggle to find the right tools for a rapid economic recovery, to create jobs and come to the aid of the most vulnerable, the world needs wise and inclusive economic governance which truly looks at global interests, not those of a selected few.

Author bio

Shada Islam is an EUobserver columnist, and independent EU analyst and commentator who runs her own strategy and advisory company New Horizons Project. She also teaches Europe-Asia relations as visiting professor at the College of Europe.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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