Controversy over “Heiligendamm Process”
In terms of legitimacy, the G8 is under huge pressure, and this was so even before the summit at Heiligendamm. Of course, heads of state and government must not be denied the right to meet and exchange opinions in informal settings. However, criticism of the Group of Eight is justified. This is an exclusive club that makes decisions of global relevance, affecting the world far beyond the national jurisdictions of the governments present. Debt relief for the world’s poorest countries and the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa are but two such topics. Most countries concerned are not included in decision-making at all.
To demonstrate openness, Germany’s Federal Government invited five African leaders to Heiligendamm, for 90 minutes of talks and a photo opportunity. However, the Africans did not have any influence on decision-making, as the G8 had already released their Africa Declaration the previous evening.
The O5 heads of state and government were involved at least in a joint communiqué with the G8. Unsurprisingly, the document invoked cooperation. It has been obvious for a long time that neither the G8 nor the strongest newly-industrialising countries are able to rise to the greatest challenges facing the global economy on their own. Tony Blair, Britain’s outgoing prime minister, therefore suggested to enlarge the G8 into the G13. However, the other G8 members did not adopt that proposal, with Germany’s Federal Government arguing the group’s “shared values” and “efficiency” needed protection.
Instead of starting the G13, the summit thus launched the “Heiligendamm Process” as a forum for dialogue with the O5. Results are to be presented at the G8 summit in Italy in two years. The brief statement issued by G8 and O5, however, hardly reveals what tangible results one should expect.
Evidently, however, the agenda for the Heiligendamm Process only indirectly addresses pressing global issues such as climate change or financial-market stability. From the outset, this Process lacks what political scientists call “output legitimacy”. This phenomenon depends on results which, in the eyes of the people affected, can justify institutions or procedures.
But even if G8 plus O5 had dared to tackle the main challenges humankind is facing, large sections of the world’s peoples would still be excluded. Accepting a few additional members into its ranks would not make the exclusive club of G8 nations more representative and transparent. In this respect, the G8’s attempt to commit the O5 countries to “joint responsibility for development, with particular attention on Africa” is strange. It looked as if old and new donors were staking their claims – indeed, without even consulting the African nations affected. The G8 accordingly seems even more like an anachronistic relic from the past century, similar in this respect to the United Nations Security Council.
There is an alternative. The UN General Assembly recently resolved to strengthen the UN’s hitherto weak Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Under its auspices, a high-level Development Cooperation Forum will be held every two years, to discuss strategies, funding and coherence of various partners’ activities. The pilot meeting was held in Geneva in early July, and – with the exception of Italy – all G8 and O5 members were present, along with numerous African, Asian and Latin American countries. That would have been the appropriate forum to discuss, as partners among equals, all issues relating to economic and social development.