It will be a gigantic media event, but the G7 summit will have to be about much more than pretty pictures. And, Henrik Böhme writes, Germany has to be much more than just a good host.
Genoa, July 20, 2001: Silvio Berlusconi, then the Italian prime minister, had invited the Group of Eight to the venerable port city, but tens of thousands of demonstrators also came to protest the summit. They saw the G8 as the source of all evil - a stronghold of neoliberalism responsible for the world's injustices.
On that July 20, a bullet fired by the 20-year-old carabiniere Mario Placanica killed 23-year-old protester Carlo Giuliani. The summit went on nonetheless, but political themes were overshadowed by the killing. It was planned that future summits would be held in more remote areas. Genoa was the first nail in the G8's coffin.
A few years later, the collapse of Lehmann Brothers rocked financial markets. The world stared into the abyss, and the G8 soon realized that they could not solve the problem alone. They recalled the G20, which until then had only acted as a forum for finance ministers, and appointed it as a crisis management task force. In Washington, DC, in 2008 heads of state and government sat down together for the first time in 2008.
As a result, the G8 lost relevance. In the summer of 2010, a sort of double summit was attempted in Canada - first the G8 met, then the G20. Yet, that failed to save the G8 as well. It was determined that global economics would be debated within the G20 from then on, and the G8 rebranded itself as a foreign policy forum. However, its dynamism was increasingly bogged down by the global finical crisis. There was not much left to say, individual interests were simply too disparate.
The G8 sensed a new chance for themselves, and decided to attempt to resolve the world's problems as a "community of shared values." One of these massive problems was global wealth inequality. Final documents from a number of G7 and G8 summits repeatedly contained statements on fighting poverty, increasing the taxation of capital, and fighting protectionism as well as the dubious tax practices of large international corporations.
Generally, if there were any results at all, they tended to be nominal at best. This is still especially obvious in regard to wealth distribution. This is glaringly illustrated by the fact that the wealth of the 80 richest people in the world has risen from $1.3 trillion to $1.9 trillion (1.7 trillion euros) over the last four years - that means since the financial collapse! According to a study by the British aid organization Oxfam, this club of the super rich possesses as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity - some 3.5 billion people. The International Labor Organization has presented comparable numbers. Similarly, they have found that an average of roughly 40 percent of global wealth belongs to the richest 10 percent of the population. In comparison, the poorest 10 percent of the population possess only 2 percent of global wealth. This disparity is not limited to "north-south" comparisons, or those between rich and poor countries. This can easily be seen by looking at the United States. There, bosses of companies listed on the S&P 500 earn 250 times what the average worker does. At the same time, more that 45 million Americans live on food stamps.
Leaders of the seven member states that make up the group now that Russia has been thrown out know all of this. But real plans for reigning in rampant capitalism are nowhere to be seen. The illustrious group's best chance to finally do something will certainly be the upcoming UN special summit in New York this September, where goals for sustainable development beyond 2015 will be adopted. Ahead of the UN meeting, the summit in Elmau is an opportunity for the G7 members to commit to their own goals for ending extreme poverty throughout the world by 2030.
They must focus more than they have so far on crafting effective tax policy measures as the companies that avoid taxes are mainly headquartered in G7 countries. And they must make sure that ecological, social and labor standards are adhered to along the entirety of the production and delivery chain - not just voluntarily: bindingly. Thus, the German G7 presidency has set the right priorities. But the chancellor has to be more than a good host at Schloss Elmau; she has to demonstrate that Germany is truly ready to take on responsibility. She has to show that she is ready to lead.
The question remains, however: Can the G7 assert its goals? The group has to recognize that this is its last chance to justify its own existence. Only when the seven members are able to agree on climate change goals and social standards, and when they have gotten corporations to comply with these, will they have earned the label "community of shared values."
That is the only way to defuse the ticking time bomb of social inequality. The multibillionaire Paul Tudor Jones - a trader and hedge fund manager, of course - summed up the problem quite a while ago. Jones said that we were in the midst of a disastrous market mania, the worst that he'd ever experienced. And that the gulf between the 1 percent and the rest of the world could not go on for long. His take: "It will end in revolution, higher taxes or war."
That could be a maxim for the G7 - if not, it may well be chiseled onto the group's tombstone.
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