All hypotheses for the institutional reorganization of the summit meeting of the seven most industrialized countries in the world, also known as the G-7, must depart from a clear analysis of its present structure. This article is aimed at providing just that, concentrating attention on its composition, decision-making mechanism, support structures, and its relations with other international organizations (IOs).
The first part of the article describes the G-7's present institutional configuration; the second deals with the more important problems inherent in its institutional reorganization and looks at the various proposals that have been advanced, especially after the recent Tokyo Summit, which explicitly reiterated the need for redefinition of the aims of the G-7, of the structure of its meetings and of its decision-making mechanism.
All hypotheses are examined in light of the new proposals put forward
concerning the objectives which the G-7 is to pursue in coming years.
Objectives are considered in more detail elsewhere in this issue; the specific
proposals described here must be seen as instrumental to the achievement of
those new objectives.
The Present Institutional Configuration of the G-7
The G-7 undoubtedly constitutes one of the instruments for strengthening institutional cooperation in certain sectors. Nevertheless, a description of the essential characteristics that have marked that cooperation to date will show that the G-7 is atypical with respect to other instruments of international cooperation.
The G-7 is not an international organization in the technical sense of the term: in fact, it is not based on an international treaty, it has no autonomous structure with respect to the individual participants, no secretariat, and all activity is-at least apparently-very informal.
Today, the G-7 can be defined as a meeting of government bodies subject to international law, whose competences are limited basically by the will of the participant states and whose means of action are those permitted by international law.
One essential characteristic of the meeting is its limited membership: this is restricted to the seven most industrialized countries in the world, corresponding geopolitically to some of the great economic powers of the northern hemisphere, which are characterized by a democratic political system and a market economy, and that share some basic values concerning the rules of interstate coexistence.
The G-7 was originally set up as a totally informal and non-bureaucratized mechanism allowing the leaders of the seven most industrialized countries to discuss matters of common interest off- the-record.
This informality was reflected, at least at the beginning, in the total absence of a fixed summit structure or any kind of administrative/bureaucratic support. With the passing of the years, however, and the proliferation of the matters for discussion, the structure of the summit has slowly, almost unconsciously, become more complicated. This has affected both the preparatory stage of the summit and the successive stage of assessment of the compliance with and implementation of the decisions taken.
Five major areas of the operational mechanism have developed rapidly:
The preparatory stage. The outcome of the summit often hinges on the preparatory stage. Initially organized by personal representatives of the leaders, this stage has gradually seen both the number of people and the procedures involved multiply: the sherpas were soon joined by sous-sherpas; and a meeting of the director generals of the respective foreign affairs ministries was introduced a few years ago to discuss the political agenda of the meeting.
During the preparatory stage, work groups, study groups and task forces on specific issues play an important role and serve various purposes. Not only do they prepare background documents to facilitate discussion among the Seven (e.g. the International Study Group set up at the 1977 London Summit to evaluate the nuclear combustion cycle), they also present specific reports to the G-7 leaders or their personal representatives (e.g. the work group of the G-7 and EC government representatives on technology, growth and employment, set up at the 1982 Versailles Summit). The G-7 foreign ministers also presented the "Report on aid to Africa" to the 1986 Tokyo Summit, which was then approved. These ad hoc groups also work out specific recommendations for the summit meetings??is was the task of the international work group on energy technologies set up at the 1979 Tokyo Summit); identify new areas of cooperation (the 1984 London Summit invited G-7 ministers of the environment to work towards this end); to?stimulate cooperation among participants (the task force for financial actions set out at the 1989 Paris Summit was also charged with assessing the results of cooperation already under way to prevent the banking system and financial institutions from being used to launder money and to examine new forms of prevention in this field, including the adaptation of the legislative and regulatory systems to improve multinational legal assistance. The 1990 Houston summit approved this report and committed the seven countries to implement all recommendations quickly and completely. A similar procedure was adopted by the Task Force on chemical precursors used in the production of illegal drugs).
Preparatory tasks of this nature have also been carried out on mandate from the previous summit by such specialized international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Another group which contributes to preparatory activity is the so-called quadrilateral international trade, which brings together the competent ministers of the United States, Canada, Japan and the EC trade commissioner, and meets three to four times a year since it was established in 1982. The regular meeting the G-7 finance ministers and governors of central banks have also gained importance since they were introduced at the 1986 Tokyo Summit.
The summit procedure and the decision-making mechanism. The convening of the summit is decided at the previous summit: on the proposal of the host country, the summit generally sets the place and the date (month) in which the next meeting will take place. Special meetings on specific topics urgently demanding a stance may be convened, if deemed necessary by all members. Regular G-7 summits are usually held once a year.
The summit is chaired by the leader of the host country. The powers of the chairman that have emerged include determining the agenda; directing and moderating the discussion; making sure that the preparatory stage is carried out in an orderly and fruitful way; issuing (if necessary) a final communiqué unless the parties wish to adopt--as is almost always the case--a joint declaration. In some cases, the chairman has issued a statement on specific aspects dealt with during the meeting (e.g. at the Venice Summit in 1980, a statement on behalf of the summit participants was made concerning the 1978 Bonn Declaration on air hijacking. At the 1984 London Summit, the chairman issued a statement on the Iran-Iraq conflict).
Participating in the summits are the heads of state or government, accompanied by their foreign and financial ministers. It is of interest to note that the title "head of state" used in G-7 (and other) phraseology, derives from the unique institutional set-up in France. Actually, the composition of national delegations participating in the summits is rather flexible: for example, the Japanese delegation includes the minister of foreign trade and industry, while the United States delegation has at times included the director of the Environmental Protection Agency or the secretary of state for agriculture.
Past summits have given rise to the tradition that certain times--generally the working breakfast--are reserved exclusively for the heads of state or government.
Decisions at the summit are adopted by consensus. Given the cooperative nature of the G-7, there do not seem to be any exceptions to this rule, even though it gives each participant considerable veto power.
The typology and value of the acts adopted by the G-7. Given the special nature and characteristics of the annual summits, the question of the value and efficacy of the acts adopted by the G-7 is complex and must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
The typical G-7 act is the final declaration of summit participants. This declaration can be divided into two or more parts dedicated, respectively, to economic and political issues. Very rarely, the conclusions of the meeting (or parts of it) are presented, as already mentioned, as the "Conclusions of the Chairman" (e.g. the statements made by the chairman in addition to the final declaration at the 1980 Venice Summit, the 1981 Ottawa Summit, and the 1984 London Summit).
Legal assessment of the final declaration calls for a careful examination of each paragraph, in that it can contain the following types of formulations:
International obligations for the participant states. When the text is formulated in this sense, legally binding international obligations arise for the participants. The text can, in fact, be considered an international agreement concluded by short procedures-that is, it does not require the subsequent process of ratification-among national leaders who certainly have the power to manifest internationally the will of the states which they represent. Violation of the obligations thus formulated would entail the international responsibility of the violating state.
Taking on international obligations by stipulating agreements using short procedures is a consolidated practice in Italy, which no longer raises serious doubts about conformity with constitutional rules, as long as the matters regulated by the agreement are not among those mentioned in Article 80 of the Italian Constitution. If that were the case, the international obligations would have to be assumed in Italy by means of a treaty demanding ratification by the president upon prior authorization by the chambers of parliament.
Recommendations to the G-7 member states. There are numerous examples of final declarations inviting member states or even third states to behave in a certain manner. Unlike the international obligations examined above, these acts are not legally binding and can be considered mere recommendations.
Simple invitations to international organizations. As will be seen in the following paragraph, the G-7 has intense relations with international organizations. These relations vary, but the G-7 generally does no more than make proposals or invite the IOs to undertake certain activities. Obviously, the acts do not produce legal obligations as they are merely political urgings to third parties.
Acts relative to internal organization. Final declarations frequently contain decisions relative to the setting up of new bodies within the summit system, such as task forces, work groups and meetings of high-level representatives. These parts of the declarations are binding but, pursuant to current doctrine, are effective solely within the G-7. They are referred to as acts of internal organization.
The instruments available to the G-7 to achieve its ends. A variety of instruments are available to the G- 7 to achieve its objectives:
The mechanism for verifying implementation of the decisions taken at the previous meetings. As of the 1984 London Summit, final declarations increasingly put the accent on the need for feedback on the actual impact of the decisions taken at the preceding summits and verification, of whether participant states are respecting those decisions. Over the years, the mechanism has grown and gained importance, as it allows for a real assessment of the effectiveness and, consequently, the usefulness of the summit meetings.
Initially this monitoring--inevitably rather superficial--took place during the meeting itself: the individual countries gave a more or less detailed report of the measures undertaken to execute the decisions taken at the preceding summit.
Later, however, specific groups of high level representatives were charged with evaluating the implementation of the decisions adopted in technical sectors (e.g. paragraph 16 of the 1980 Venice Declaration sets up a group of that kind to examine periodically the results obtained in the energy saving sector).
The Final Declaration of the 1987 Venice Summit expressly sets the monitoring of the progress achieved in each country and by all in implementing the policies to which the leaders have committed themselves among summit objectives. The same Final Declaration calls upon the G-7 finance ministers meeting to verify respect for the decisions taken in the economic- financial-monetary sector and to present reports on this subject to the summit. This is a significant development with respect to the previous situation, in which limited control functions were given to technical committees (such as the one on energy savings).
The foregoing confirms that the G-7's institutional structure and decision-making mechanism has gradually become more complex. This has been paralleled by the establishment of several new bodies, some of which have been endowed with a certain degree of decision-making power. Indeed, as the objectives of the G-7 have evolved, the subjects examined have also increased in number: in addition to the traditional economic, trade and financial issues which occupied a large part of the final declarations of the early meetings, other matters, such as energy, the fight against national and international terrorism, how to combat the laundering of money, environmental protection, cooperation with developing countries, the use of nuclear energy, bioethics, and the fight against AIDS, have slowly made their way onto the agenda. This trend culminated in the Final Declaration of the 1991 London Summit: it reviewed and commented on practically all major political problems of the time.
Given the extremely technical nature of some of the matters dealt with, many of them have been entrusted to new bodies specifically set up within the G-7 (international work groups, task forces, study groups). An examination of the characteristics of these new fora may provide some indications as to the direction for the G-7's future institutional development.
Of interest, first of all, is the degree of institutionalization, bureaucratization and formalization of these new structures: it is decidedly higher and more sophisticated than that of the summit itself. Consider, for example, the new forum composed of the finance ministers of the Seven, established at the 1986 Tokyo Summit: the objectives and tasks of that mechanism have been defined in detail and were augmented at the 1987 Venice Summit, the frequency of the meetings has been increased and the participation has been extended to the governors of central banks, but not to the EC Commission.
Similar considerations hold for the Quadrilateral, which meets two to three times per year and is chaired by the US representative.
In some cases, institutionalization has gone even farther. At the 1991 London Summit, it was decided that the Task Force for Financial Action should operate on a permanent basis and that it should have a secretariat, which could be provided by the OECD.
Another characteristic of the new fora set up by the G-7 is the tendency to extend cooperation and participation to other states. Thus, at the Houston Summit, the G-7 invited OECD countries and those participating in the financial organizations adhering to and implementing the recommendations of the Task Force for Financial Action to take part in the task force's meeting. Similarly, participation in the Task Force for Chemical Action has been extended to countries trading chemical substances that can be used for the production of illegal drugs.
As a rule, the work groups and task forces report to or present reports to the summit. But the activity of these groups, in itself, achieves one of the objectives of the G-7: to intensify and extend the new sectors of cooperation among the seven most industrialized countries. And it is for this reason that the summit generally merely endorses the groups' activities and in some cases provides indications of a strategic or political nature.
The G-7's atypical structure has, from the beginning, sparked the question of its relations with other organizations. Various theories have been advanced on the subject, both in doctrine and by the individual member states. Here, too, examination of the official texts adopted at the end of the summits may provide concrete information about what those relations are like.
Some preliminary considerations are in order. First of all, the G-7 has underlined in various documents that it intends to take into adequate account the interests of states not participating in the summit meetings. Second, ever since the first meeting in Rambouillet, it has reiterated that the G-7 intends to make use of existing IOs to achieve certain objectives, but absolutely does not intend to replace them. Finally, the seven most industrialized countries have repeatedly emphasized that they do not intend to renounce an active and sometimes critical relationship with IOs.
Entering into greater detail, the G-7's relations with IOs involve a variety of activities. These include merely taking note of or underlining the activities carried out by the IOs; supporting, integrating or implementing decisions taken by IOs; working out common lines of action among G-7 countries towards or within IOs; and inviting other nations to cooperate with the G-7 on certain issues within IOs or to carry out specific activities in IOs. Other activities involve strengthening cooperation between the G-7 and IOs; using IOs to carry out activities of immediate interest to the G-7; taking on commitments, as national leaders, to participate personally in certain activities carried out by the IOs; suggesting the configuration of ideal relations between the various IOs; influencing the internal decision-making processes of the IOs by making specific proposals; inviting or asking IOs to carry out certain activities; proposing specific reforms or the strengthening of certain IOs or some of their activities; ensuring that the IOs have the means needed to carry out their tasks and, where necessary, contributing to an increase in their resources; hoping for the participation of new states in existing IOs; and proposing the establishment of new IOs.
An attentive examination of official documents suggests that the G-7 has five different approaches to international organizations. They may be summarized as follows:
This section examines and, where necessary, critically assesses certain ideas concerning the reorganization and rationalization of the G-7 institutional order. The aim is to determine the institutional configuration that is most functional for achieving the new objectives which the G-7 will be called upon to pursue in the coming years.
For the purposes of this article, the future objectives of the G-7 are those stated, analyzed and commented by Stefano Silvestri elsewhere in this collection.
In order to be able to advance any hypotheses concerning the rationalization of the G-7 institutional system and its adaptation to the new requirements, a distinction must be made between the annual summit meeting, on the one hand, and the so-called G-7 system, which includes all activities and bodies revolving around the summit, on the other.
In general, the summit meeting should be made less bureaucratic and more informal and spontaneous, while the G-7 system should be made more functional and rational. Although this inevitably involves weighing the system down with a certain degree of institutionalization and bureaucratization, a new configuration should help to alleviate significantly the work load of the summit meeting.
Objectives and specific tasks of the G-7 system. The G-7 system is supposed to take care of the preparations for the summit meeting, implement any decisions taken by the heads of state or government at the summit, monitor and verify the execution of summit decisions and, finally, provide an administrative and technical secretariat.
During the preparatory stage, the G-7 system must be organized so that concrete proposals to be submitted to the summit meeting can be worked out: the proposals may be in either highly technical sectors (e.g. the fight against the laundering of money) or in the political sphere (e.g. how to deal with long-term crises).
During the implementation stage, the G-7 system should ensure the rapid and effective execution of the decisions taken at the summit. This is particularly necessary if the summit expressly delegates one of the system's bodies to carry out a certain activity, and in any case if certain integrative activities are required for effective implementation of decisions.
In order to monitor and verify respect of the decisions taken, the system will have to be structured in such a way as to ensure an overall evaluation of the actual impact and to check on whether they are respected by the individual participants.
Finally, the G-7 system is responsible for providing a technical and administrative secretariat to facilitate the political work of the G-7, to provide some continuity in the G-7's activities and to build up a G-7 memory bank.
The institutional structure of the G-7 system. As seen, the G-7 system is already structured in a functional way. However, it requires some institutional innovations--minor adjustments--in order to be able to deal adequately with the new tasks to be taken on.
In the technical and financial-monetary sectors, the system is already equipped to accomplish the many tasks it has been assigned: suffice it to think of the work done by the meetings of the finance ministers and the governors of the central banks during the pre- and post-summit stages and efforts made with regard to verification. The ad hoc groups, working groups, etc. have also demonstrated a remarkable operational capacity.
The shortcomings lie in such sectors as the harmonization of regional and global requirements, the preparation and implementation of particular aspects of foreign policy lacking a strong economic-monetary base and the services provided by the technical-administrative secretariat. Some concrete proposals can be made to eliminate them:
Some kind of dialogue could be undertaken among the three bodies of regional integration to which the G-7 member states belong-the European Union, the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), more precisely the North American Free Trade Commission established by Article 2001 of the NAFTA Treaty, and the American Pacific Economic Community (APEC), which appears to be the most suitable Far Eastern counterpart, given its political as well as technical coloring. Some form of dialogue among these bodies, promoted and coordinated by the G-7, seems indispensable to the new G-7 strategy of reducing the incompatibilities between the various forms of regionalism and could be undertaken in the short term, perhaps even at the Naples Summit.
More concretely, the Naples Summit could invite the three regional bodies to meet regularly to carry out certain preparatory activities for the next summit. For example, it could ask the three bodies to prepare a joint document for the following summit analyzing all aspects involved in the establishment of a new trade organization.
More frequent meetings of the G-7 foreign ministers could be called (but only when deemed necessary) to strengthen the political dimension of the G-7 and to improve its activity of crisis management and coordination of the positions of its members. In addition, the summit could, as it has in the past, ask foreign ministers to prepare reports on specific issues to be presented at the following summit. Given the increasingly close and almost indissoluble ties between the economic-financial and political aspects of many decisions taken by the summit, the foreign affairs ministers could perhaps contribute to preparation of the summit meeting. The summit could also delegate the G-7 foreign ministers to deal with unexpected future crises requiring a joint effort by the G-7 for their rapid and effective solution. This is not to propose the institutionalization of the foreign ministers' meeting along the lines of that of the financial ministers: the foreign ministers should, in fact, meet exclusively when necessary and urgent.
A G-7 Secretariat could be set up as an alternative to the present way of dealing with technical-administrative matters. This could be done either by creating a structure ex novo or by using the secretariat of some existing organization, such as the OECD. The structure would have to be small with a limited staff (like the CSCE Secretariat). The only drawback of such a proposal is that it would further weigh down the G-7 system, introducing a new body which will almost inevitably tend to expand and thereby overly bureaucratize the entire G-7 diplomatic exercise. Alternatively, the present system, in which the state chairing the summit takes care of administrative matters could continue. The drawbacks of this system are the inevitably "national" management of the secretariat's work, the difficulty in ensuring continuity and the impossibility of building up a memory bank, which has often proved extremely useful to an organization like the G-7.
Conclusive considerations on the reorganization of the G-7 system. It is clear from the foregoing that the G-7 system's institutional apparatus must be adapted to the new reality in order to reduce the routine work and the bureaucratization of the summit meetings. In other words, the need to alleviate the work of the summit, to make it less formal, more personal and more oriented towards important strategic decisions, inescapably involves more work for the G-7 system.
This consideration must be seen in relation to the new ambitious, complex and long-term objectives to be pursued by the G-7. Thus, the activity of the G-7 system must be increased if new strategies are to be worked out rapidly and effectively. In this light, the drawbacks involved in a further burdening of the G-7 system do not seem unsurmountable.
The heads of state or government have repeatedly expressed the wish that the summit meetings return to the original conception of a place in which to speak openly and frankly about various problems of common interest. Significant in this context is the paragraph in the 1993 Tokyo Final Declaration in which the Seven suggest making the summit less ceremonious, reducing the number of persons involved, dedicating less attention to the final document and more time to informal discussion.
In order to pursue this widely shared objective, the G-7 system will have to be revamped to take some of the work load off the summit. The preparatory stage will have to be improved and new rules introduced in assigning competences for certain matters.
The objectives and specific tasks of the summit meetings. The G-7 meetings should serve a number of purposes:
Summit meeting preparations. The current preparatory procedure for summits does not require profound changes, but the new tasks assigned the meetings must be considered. They call for a redefinition of the roles of the personal representatives of the heads of state or government. The sherpas should essentially be put in charge of the preliminary stage of the meeting dedicated to routine matters, which will be discussed later: they will have to examine the documents prepared by the G-7 system bodies so that the heads of state or government need consider only the more important or controversial points. Personal representatives could also be assigned more significant tasks in coordinating summit follow-up activities.
Finally, new ways must be found to involve national leaders more closely in the early stages of the preparatory process. This can largely be achieved by developing closer links between the personal representatives and the heads of state or government that nominated them. The idea of making sherpas the real personal representatives of their national leaders as they were in the beginning certainly merits some thought.
The meeting procedure. In order to achieve the objectives mentioned earlier, the meeting should be divided into two distinct stages: the first--institutional--stage should be dedicated to certain routine activities, such as examining documents prepared for the summit by the various G-7 system bodies, assessing the implementation of the decisions adopted at the preceding meetings, coordinating activities, issuing guidelines on how to deal with certain long-term crises, up-dating general strategic choices. Another central issue in this part of the meeting could be decisions concerning the proxies to be assigned for specific tasks to the various G-7 system bodies.
Wherever necessary, that is, in the presence of sudden crises before the annual July summit, the heads of state or government could extend debate during this preliminary stage of the meeting to deal with them in a joint and coordinated manner.
The second part of the meeting should be dedicated to open, frank and informal discussion of issues that may be proposed by the chairman-in-office, perhaps on the suggestion of the participants. The agenda of this part of the meeting could also be left open to allow for free discussion.
This part of the meeting, in which participants should demonstrate their leadership ability, could also serve to enhance personal acquaintances, making it possible for participants to understand the reasons behind some national positions which might otherwise be incomprehensible.
Participation in summit meetings. The ideal configuration of meetings of the heads of state or government described above has certain implications as far as participation in the meetings is concerned.
In the first part of the meeting dedicated to routine matters, the presence of the foreign ministers and perhaps the finance ministers could be useful so that any apprehensions or uncertainties on the part of the heads of state or government can be cleared up immediately. The presence of these ministers may also be functional to the heads of state or government in the effective exercise of their powers of coordination, impulse and orientation of the other G-7 system bodies.
In the second part of the meeting dedicated to free, frank and informal discussion of issues proposed on the spot, participation should be limited to the heads of state or government, accompanied by their personal advisors if they so wish. Only by limiting participation in this manner can the objectives pursued in this kind of informal meeting be attained.
Concluding procedure. The problem of drafting the final declaration has been raised numerous times by experts and the participants of the summits themselves. Drafting of the final declaration has in some cases absorbed a good part of the intellectual and physical energies of the participants. At the same time, there are serious and well-founded doubts about the effectiveness and actual impact of a long and articulated declaration which often dedicates a paragraph to each of the important problems of the international community without indicating concrete or practicable solutions: the text of the final declaration is frequently no more than a list of problems lacking concrete proposals for their solution.
The widespread desire to reduce or even eliminate the final declaration has
not yet been realized, and it is unlikely that it will be in the future, either,
given the strong expectations that the G-7 summits generate in the mass media
and public opinion throughout the world. Some intermediate solutions can,
however, be envisaged. The first is to close the meeting with a statement by
the chairman-in-office summarizing the discussion, rather than a final
declaration of the participants. This is normal procedure in a number of
similar bodies and has also been put into practice a few times by the G-7.
Another is to have participants draft a shorter declaration, making public the
decisions adopted during the first part of the meeting. This would be
integrated by a statement by the chairman on the work carried out in the second
part of the meeting.
Specific Italian Interests in G-7 Institutional Reform
Since Italy is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council and since no reform giving it a more important role seems imminent, the country has a specific interest in strengthening the G- 7. The G-7 is the only authoritative forum in which Italy can influence directly and in collaboration with its traditional Western partners some of the decisions regarding the international community.
Thus, Italy has a precise interest in strengthening the entire G-7 structure to make it more suited to pursuing the country's ends. More informality and spontaneity at the summit meetings, as well as a few measures bolstering the preparatory stage of the summit and greater recourse to delegation by the heads of state or government to competent bodies within the G-7 system are welcome.
Shifting from ltaly's interests as a nation to its interests as an important member of a regional grouping, the G-7's priority objective is doubtlessly seen as harmonization of the requirements of regionalism with those of globalism.
Unlike the United States and Canada, which are both members of two economic integration associations (NAFTA and APEC) and have intense institutional relations with European partners through participation in the CSCE, Italy and its European partners would be particularly vulnerable in the event of economic-trade conflicts between regional blocs. The recent positive results of the Uruguay Round of GATT only slightly attenuate this risk.
In this light, it is obvious that Italy's primary concern is to strengthen and institutionalize a mechanism within the G-7 by which the possibility of economic-trade conflicts among the various areas can be prevented or reduced to a minimum. Functional to that end is the proposal to set up a mechanism for consultation among the EU, NAFTA and APEC which would, under the impulse and coordination of the G-7, make it possible to deal with some problems before they deteriorate.
Source: The International Spectator, 29, No. 2 (April/June 1994), Special Issue, pp. 67-79. Copyright ©, Istituto
Affari Internazionali. Reproduced by permission of the author and Istituto
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