The G8 is dead; long live the G7?

It’s not so long since we praised the new G8, with Russia present as a bridge to the new emerging BRIC giants, notably China and India. Then it got dull and repetitive, mainly some competitive show-and-tell between photo-ops.

But now! Expelling Russia the G7 seems to be re-shaping itself into the Cold War II Co-ordination Committee. It has found new relevance for itself and NATO, reviving old rivalries. Albeit largely token sanctions have been imposed on rich Russians foolish enough to use US banks. Canada’s warrior class are having a field day, even if most Canadians, like other G7 citizens, and especially the business community, would rather their governments focus on jobs and sustainable growth.

Energy shortages are now a big worry for a Europe dependent on gas pipelines through Ukraine. The worry was compounded by the recent Russia–China summit in which they signed a $400b/30 year gas deal, deflating Canada’s own LNG dreams.

All this is because of Ukraine, known for many years as a mess of corruption and poor governance. Just a month or so ago, we had the drama of the overthrowing of its elected but corrupt president by street protesters and then Crimea was re-joined to Russia. Now a billionaire oligarch known as the Chocolate King has been elected President in Ukraine. Are the G7 helping him find a compromise package with some Canadian style federalism? Or stirring the pot to poke at Russia? At very least he will be sending some thank-you after-dinner chocolates to the Brussels, despite the superior quality local brand.

Rounding out the month, European voters in EU-wide elections soundly rejected the mainstream parties in favour of extremists of both left and right. They seem to saying that EU policy-leaders’ obsession with fiscal rectitude was destroying popular hopes for an end to a jobless ‘recovery’.

So what can we expect from this week’s mini-G7 Summit (June 4-5), chaired by those very same chasten EU leaders in Brussels?

Especially after the EU elections, the big focus should be on the still stumbling economic realities. Even if the macro-numbers are marginally positive, they have no depth and politically critical youth unemployment levels remain stubbornly high. The push on trade is all about more minor bilateral deals – multilateralism is forgotten. Canada is a key culprit here. But multilateralism means coming to terms with trading with the emerging economies, which means moving the debate to the G20 for any serious action.

The recent wake-up call from IMF head, Christine Lagarde, saying G7 governments have still to create a set of rules for too-big-to-fail banks, deserves urgent attention. But it is more likely to become another ‘to do’ item on the G7 accountability list.

Ukraine is the topic that will excite most attention, whilst exposing again the sharp differences between those who want peace in Europe and those who want to wave cold war flags again. We know where Canada unfortunately lies on this topic, even without our large Ukrainian diaspora. Ukraine will be at the centre of an G7 debate on energy security, meaning less dependence on Russian gas. But nothing can be done quickly; international pipelines as Canadians know well, can take years to start, let alone finish.

They will have a lot of routine business, much carried over from the last G8 meeting under an energetic UK PM. But most G7 leaders are looking politically weaker this year, especially President Obama and his French counterpart.

The big push in 2013 was around PM Cameron’s Tax and Transparency package, but this is tricky because it needs a world of harmony in which everybody agrees to simultaneously squeeze the tax evaders and those active in the illicit flows. Everybody is a tricky group: oligarchs from the former Soviet Union, corrupt elites in the developing world and the matching corrupters, business leaders in the OECD countries. 2014 will produce another list of unfulfilled promises by G7 leaders and their finance ministers. It’s the same postponement story on making sure offshore extractive industries pay taxes at both, not neither, end.

Mr. Harper, fresh from his MNCH summit in Toronto will be looking for some words of praise and pledges of new donor money to match his cash. No Europeans came to his Toronto event and as big donors long before Canada they are not likely to buy into his restricted version of reproductive rights.

Climate change will be on the agenda with a greater sense of urgency. President Obama finally lost patience with his Tea Party dominated opposition in Congress and took executive action, cutting the use of coal in power plants. The Europeans, years ahead on this front at least, will welcome him into the believers’ club. This leaves Canada increasingly isolated in resisting a new binding agreement to succeed Kyoto.

G7 countries will also be preparing to sign up to the UN’s Post-2015 Agenda. Negotiations are due to start in earnest in the coming months, with a final agreement set for signature at the UN in Sept 2015. Canada is inevitably going with the tide. We don’t want to be seen opposing poverty elimination and universal goals, especially not just before an election where inequality might be a big issue.
All this sounds a busy agenda for a less than 24 hours meeting. Of course the leaders’ sherpas have been drafting ‘their’ conclusions, that ‘communiqué’, for well over a month now.

But is this even more shrunken G7 a serious global voice? One worrying signal when the BRICS publically told Australia’s PM to stop fantasising that, as this year’s G20 chair, he could expel Russia. Instead key European G7 leaders have set up formal meetings with Putin at the D-day celebrations. Presumably, the hard-headed realists amongst G7 leaders, but not Canada, will be signalling privately that a G20, one with Russia and the BRICS, has to be protected as the main vehicle for global leadership discussions, bar the UN Security Council.

All this is not good news for today’s Canada which relishes the G7 prestige and is not ready for all that partnership stuff with emerging powers.