The messy quarrel over the G7 communique serves nobody. So why not scrap these summits altogether? After all, the four-decade-old event is an anachronistic format anyway, says Felix Steiner.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron should take matters into their own hands and scrap G7 summits. And who could object to that? These annual gatherings, bringing together leaders of the world's biggest economies, are a Franco-German invention. Germany's former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing established the summit in the 1970s – so why would their elected successors not be entitled to disband the club?
Posing for the press
Doing away with the huge summit would not be a great loss for humanity. After all, what was originally conceived in 1975 as a gathering for casual and confidential talks on economic matters has transformed into an annual mega event. Today, summits are held in out of the way locations for fear of protesters, while the 1,000 journalists in attendance interpret leaders' every gesture and facial expression live on the air.
Well aware of this media coverage, leaders pose for the press, doing what they can to impress voters at home. This year's summit made it abundantly clear just how differently national audiences view what goes on at the summit.
Vaguely worded outcomes
Then there is the tradition of protracted negations over the exact phrasing of the final communique, leading to excessively vague wording–of a document that has no relevance for world affairs, whether or not all the leaders sign it. With the little allotted time, is it even possible to meaningfully debate and agree on how to tackle plastic waste contaminating the oceans, or how to promote women entrepreneurs in the developing world? Two important issues, without doubt. But is the G7 summit the right venue to address them? Maybe the United Nations would be more appropriate?
In 2007, leaders gathered at Heiligendamm to discuss climate change, even though for years the UN has held an annual climate change conference. With all the talk about the climate, everyone was taken by surprise when just eight weeks later the global financial crisis struck – economists would call that ignoring the bottom line.
Despite the label, the summit today does not actually bring together the world's greatest economies. Instead of Italy and Canada, India and China should be attending the summits. That is why, following the onset of the financial crisis, the G20 was established to allow for economic consultations that include the world's rapidly growing newly industrialized nations. That would have been the right moment for the G7 to disband. But rather than facing reality, members just kept believing in their own importance. And so, the group was simply redefined as a community bound by shared values. Which is just as ludicrous as calling NATO a community bound by shared values, given that the alliance never objected to Greek and Turkish dictators.
Multilateralism not in the cards anytime soon
NATO, just like the G7, is nothing more than a community bound by some – but not all – values. And the US, which is the most powerful member in both clubs, has now opted to alter its trade interests – with backing from American voters. Surveys show US President Donald Trump's supporters appreciate his uncompromising stance. Meaning that a return to multilateralism is not in the cards any time soon, no matter how hopeful Europeans may be.
With agreements on economic matters now out of the question, the G7 has lost its main reason for existing. All other topics were little more than embellishments, after all. This does not mean trans-Atlantic ties have been severed. A multitude of other summits still exists. But Chancellor Merkel is certainly right that now more than ever, the EU must speak with one voice. It is an appeal Merkel herself will need to heed, as she knows just how much tensions her government's course is creating within the bloc.