G8: What has it achieved?
By CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley
GENOA, Italy (CNN) -- G8 leaders left Genoa vowing that despite the street violence which now dogs every gathering of world leaders their work would go on.
But, conscious of those who criticise them as a self-perpetuating oligarchy, they struck a new note of humility too.
Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister and Summit host, stressed that the summit leaders were not there to force other people to do things but to provide a service to less prosperous countries.
“The G8 leaders have no coercive powers over other countries -- none of us ever thought that we could impose anything on any other country.”
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, was one of many summit leaders to insist that the G8 shared the objectives of many of the anti-globalist protesters and many voiced their frustration that the media had concentrated so heavily on the violence in the streets.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair angrily told reporters: “You go and talk to the African leaders and tell them the summit was of no value.
"For the first time we've got a positive, definitive process and plan for dealing with the problems of Africa and yet you measure the amount of coverage -- protests and Africa -- what's the ratio? Ten to one in favour of the riot -- the world's gone mad when that's the case.”
In truth the leaders’ work was concentrated heavily on the problems of poor countries.
African debt still a problem
Although they did not announce any new initiative on debt forgiveness they did agree their plan for intensive involvement in Africa’s problems and set out a detailed programme of poverty alleviation measures.
They subscribed $1.3 billion to the new Global Health fund designed to battle Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, a big step forward even if poverty campaigners complained it was only a tenth of what was needed.
Since the Cologne G8 in 1999, when the leaders agreed to forgive $100 billion worth of debt owed by the poorest countries, there has been more common ground between protesters and leaders than many would credit.
Last year’s G8 summit in Okinawa, Japan launched efforts to close the "digital divide" between rich and poor nations.
But the G8, which has no secretariat or follow-up mechanisms of its own, works mostly by exhorting others and it never achieves results fast enough to satisfy committed campaigners.
The UK is not alone in having forgiven all the bilateral debts owed by the 41 poorest countries.
But progress has been slow on the forgiveness of multilateral debts and many poor countries still have to devote more of their budgets to debt servicing than to health or education.
But where the G8 leaders part company sharply with the campaigners in the streets outside the heavily policed ‘Red Zone’ cordon is with their strong conviction that further stimulation of global free trade is the best way of helping the impoverished world.
In Genoa the leaders gave enthusiastic backing to a new series of World Trade Organisation liberalisation talks this autumn. They were less in harmony on the environment.
There was no pretence in the final communiqué that the other seven leaders had persuaded George W. Bush to moderate his refusal to back the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. But some of the heat seemed to have gone out of the debate.
Bush and the other leaders all accentuated the positive, saying that he shared the objective of reducing greenhouse gases and was looking for ways of doing so.
But while Bush received qualified support from Berlusconi and while Junichiro Kuizumi, Japan’s Prime Minister, said he would carry on until the last possible minute trying to bring Bush aboard on Kyoto others chafed at the delay in the announcement of alternative U.S. plans.
The summit leaders are used to having their longer term ruminations on the world economy rudely overtaken by immediate political crises in the Middle East or the Balkans.
This time though it was the style and size of their own meetings and the seemingly inevitable street reaction which became the hot topic.
'We can't go on like this'
“Can we go on meeting like this?” was the theme of the hour, with most agreeing they could not.
Canada’s Jean Chretien, who will host the next G8 summit, is talking of cutting delegations to as little as 30 or 40 people and holding the event in an inaccessible part of the Rockies.
He wants also to cover fewer subjects and produce fewer communiqués.
It is the familiar cry of “back to the fireside chat” as the original leaders meetings were intended to be before they became mega media jamborees.
We hear it periodically and summits shrink a little for a while before re-growing.
This time the leaders seem to mean business about scaling down.
And perhaps that can be called a victory for the protesters. Most of them, after all, believe that “small is beautiful."
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