A G8 summit of sorts has just wrapped up in Berlin, though delegates here had fewer wrinkles than those heading to the Heiligendamm summit in early June. It was a mock summit with college students from G8 countries.
Ready to take on the world -- delegates at the Model Youth G8 Summit
Sitting in a small conference room, delegates from the United States summarized discussions from meetings with representatives from other G8 countries. Topics ranged from ethanol subsidies and hedge-fund regulation to a debate on whether to use the word "genocide" to describe the situation in Sudan.
"France was saying, 'we don't want to label it that and make them upset'," said Denise Bouboulis, who had been at a gathering of foreign affairs ministers. "Why? In Rwanda, no one paid attention until it was labeled a genocide so what is the problem with the word?"
While Bouboulis is not a high-ranking assistant to the US Secretary of State, at least not just yet, she is playing that role, representing the United States in meetings that are likely close approximations to what goes on when official delegates from G8 countries gather for their annual pow-wows.
Meeting at the mock summit
For four days, the Hertie School of Governance in central Berlin became a mock G8 summit location, although with substantially less security, and nary a protester in sight. There, around 70 delegates from the Group of Eight countries – Germany, the UK, the US, Canada, Italy, France, Japan and Russia – and a few observer nations gathered to take positions on global matters, thrash out compromises, and work on a communiqué that will be sent to the real G8 summit to be held at the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm, Germany, on June 6–8.
"We want to provide concrete input to the G8 summit," said Patrick Wagner of the German Council on Foreign Relations, which has been involved with the event. "It's important the voices of youth be heard, especially since they are the ones who will see the future consequences of decisions made at the G8 summit."
Transparency and Understanding
According to him, the purpose of Model G8 Youth Summit is to make the G8 more transparent, to show young people how such a summit is run, how decisions are arrived at and how compromises have to be made which can lead to what, at least to many on the outside, appear to be watered-down solutions to pressing problems.
"We know from concrete experience that very few students know how such a summit is conducted," he said.
Although the young university students, most in their early 20s, who were chosen as delegates appeared already quite sure on their feet in the sometimes rarified world of diplomacy. Most were majoring in areas such as international relations or law and well versed in international issues.
Many young people oppose the G8, and protest loudly
They seemed to have little in common with the sometimes masked protestors who often take to the streets, denouncing the G8 as an elite group interested only in maintaining their wealth, even at the expense of poorer nations. All around Berlin, posters have been put up announcing anti-globalization demonstrations in the lead-up to the Heiligendamm summit. Many of the protestors will be young people.
"It's a very sensitive topic, but our aim is to create a fruitful dialogue," said Jörn Borch of Politikfabrik, the group which organized the model summit. A political science student at Berlin's Free University, he said many of his fellow students are defiantly against the G8 and what they feel it represents.
"I can understand that many people are afraid of globalization," said Michaele Wintrich, a member of the German delegation. But in preparation for the model summit, she said she looked for arguments from the anti-globalization and anti-G8 side, but found only blanket condemnations.
"That is not the way to go, because globalization is here and you can't say 'just stop it,'" she said.
While those who came as delegates are naturally going to more or less supportive the aims of the G8, model summit organizers did invite delegates from China, Brazil, India and South Africa as observers, to provide input from countries outside the G8 structure.
Attitudes toward US
The Americans at the mock G8, all students at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, found that in some respects, the model summit reflected reality a little too well. Brian Fox, who is playing the role of the US head of state, that is, George W. Bush, said that there was a lot of initial skepticism about even approaching the US delegates or engaging in conversations.
Next year the event will be held in Japan
The group anticipated this, deciding to be pro-active. Before the summit began, they started an electronic dialogue through e-mails and social networking sites to "smooth the edges" of the relationship between the United States and much of the international community.
Fox said he sees the event as a way to change a few perceptions about the US, particularly about American youth. Delegates at the model summit do not necessarily have to represent the stated policies of their governments.
"Not everybody (in the US) obviously favors the president or the policies of our country," he said. "We can have a constructive dialogue about that."
Even so, there are some parallels, especially in a few controversial areas. In one summit meeting of defense "ministers," the subject of US plans for a missile defense system based in eastern Europe was at the top of the agenda. While the US and the UK argued for the system, the Russian delegate voiced his strong objections.
On Monday, the delegates gathered what came out of their meetings and discussions and putting together a communiqué, which they are hoping high-ranking officials will take time to read and seriously consider.
"I hope important persons see it and take it as creative and fresh input from students from all over the world and will accept it as a voice, if a little voice, from the next generation," said Borch.