The significance of the G7 as a western rather than a global forum
As the 47th G7 summit is in progress these days in Cornwall, England, discussions upon its significance are taking place throughout the world. A -distant-era- terminology about this gathering refers to an influential meeting of the world’s “biggest and richest democracies”. At the same time, an issue of the G7 relevance today, given the global and drastic developments of the previous decade, is still on the table. What’s exactly the case?
To answer this question, one must observe the evolution of the political forum since its initial conception. The specific circumstances under which the G7 summit was created, as well as the progress of the global system since then, reflect directly on its importance today. Besides this factor, the agenda-setting priorities in this years’ meeting, after a not-so-long period of world turmoil, can reveal a lot about G7’s present character and role in international affairs.
A history of western build-up
During the 70s the world faced huge economic challenges. US President Nixon scrapped the post-war fixed exchange rates (Breton Woods system) in 1971 shifting the balances of the global financial system forever. Simultaneously, a global recession was ongoing due to oil embargo imposed by OPEC countries in 1973. To address those major issues, French President Giscard d’Estaing and W. German Chancellor Schmidt initiated the idea of a forum between the western powers coordinating common policies.
France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and the USA met for the first time in 1975. One year later, Canada joined the group and the G7 was formulated. Back then, the term “biggest and richest democracies” was truly impactful, as the G7 countries constituted more than 2/3 of the world’s GDP. In 1981, the EU joined the forum as a non-enumerated member, marking an expansion of the G7 agenda to issues concerning international peace and security. In the following years, G7 was acclaimed as a prominent summit not only into the western bloc organizational structure, but also for the world.
The post-Cold War era finds the forum enlarged, alongside the enlargement of the western influence (NATO, EU) in the post-Soviet area. Russian Federation joins the forum in 1998, changing the name to G8 accordingly. This development didn’t pay off. The forum remained a western-centric structure, while Russia’s conflicting geopolitical interests grew together with Putin’s domination in the country. The result was the end of the Russian engagement in 2014, as the West jointly canceled the 2014 planned meeting in Sochi following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The contemporary version of the G7 summit
After 2014, the G7 construction had to deal with a series of new challenges. The financial standoff of 2008 created a massive wave opposing unequal globalization. The West self-questioned its existence and role in the world with highlight events Brexit and Donald Trump election. At the same time, Russia grew its regional presence in areas where the US used to be undisputed, such as the Middle East. On top of this, China emerges as a new economic and political rival at a global level.
This situation contributed to a general decline of the West’s influence in the world. Consequently, this affects directly the significance of the G7 summit. A particular indication that reveals such a reality is the current percentage of the G7’s global GDP which is now approximately 40%. A central question arises though: Are these countries alone adequate to fully address the world’s current economic challenges, namely coronavirus recovery and climate change?
The 2021 G7 summit focuses greatly on tackling those issues, as well as vaccine distribution in developing countries. There is also an earlier consensus on an ambitious global tax initiative of a minimum of 15% aiming at multinational corporations. But this is not only the case. Western leaders in Cornwall will call for a new investigation on coronavirus’ origin. US’ return-to-multilateralism policies seeks to unite the rest of the West against China’s influence. Russia is also on the table under the “threats to democracy” umbrella. Of course, the endogenous competition between UK, USA and EU on the issue of Brexit cannot be ignored.
Right where it began?
Taking into consideration the evolution and the current form of the G7 forum, it is safe to assume that we are talking about neither an event of utmost importance nor an irrelevant one. G7 is right where it began: A political forum to coordinate western powers on major challenges. The difference is that 1975 is not 2021 and global power is not distributed accordingly.
If we are looking for an inclusive platform where leaders around the world can address global problems and make a bigger impact, then there is the G20 forum. It includes both China and Russia, as well as other big economies such as India and Brazil. The G7 summit cannot be regarded as ambitious as this. Of course, this statement does not imply that the West should completely ignore those issues. But we need to examine G7 for what it really is and not what it is claimed to be.
The G7 summit may not be relevant enough to influence outcomes all over the world. But it is relevant for the western leaders and their countries on matters of foreign policy. That’s why the EU and UK are making statements about each other regarding Brexit. That’s why USA is raising awareness on China, or, in other words, that’s why India, South Korea and Australia, China’s prominent rivals in the Asia-Pacific region, are invited to the summit.