G8 Fiasco At Evian
By John Lichfield
04 June 2003
The G8 summit of the world's
richest countries ended yesterday with a ringing cry of economic confidence
and the generation of more statements than ever before.
But pressure groups for the
Third World complained - and officials close to the summit admitted
- that this had been a choreographed summit of fixed smiles that evaded
all the most contentious issues, from the plunge of the dollar to the
explosion of Aids in Africa.
Unlike many previous G8 summits,
there were no splits or squabbles. But there also seems to have been
little attempt to narrow differences, and therefore no opportunity for
argument. The main concern had been to present a united front, which
would persuade markets and investors that the arguments over the Iraq
war had ended and that they could look forward to modest growth in the
Whether the outcome justified
a three-day summit, with 20 world leaders, 5,000 officials, 2,500 journalists,
20,000 police and soldiers, 100,000 protesters (kept at a safe distance)
and 100 warplanes patrolling overhead, at a total estimated cost of
€200m (£144m), is open to question.
Aid agencies and Third World
pressure groups complained that the annual G8 summits had degenerated
into "expensive talking shops".
Officials admitted that this
was probably the "least substantive" of the world economic
summits since they started in 1975, but added that the proof of the
meeting's value would be in the reaction of markets and leading economies.
They said that discussion
of the most contentious issues - from transatlantic trade disputes to
the value of the dollar, to access to cheaper medicine for the Third
World - had been kept at a general level to avoid headlines about "summit
splits", which could destabilise the world economy.
It had been agreed from the
start, they said, that the summiteers would join ranks to project confidence
The final summit declaration,
presented by the host, the French President, Jacques Chirac, said that
the "conditions" for an economic "recovery are now in
M. Chirac, in his final press
conference, was even more effusive. The Iraq unpleasantness was over;
oil prices were down; interest rates were low and likely to get lower.
The world's leading democracies
were agreed that the future was bright, he said. They were ready to
work together once more to ensure economic stability. Everyone should
have the confidence to go out and spend. Asked why the summit declaration
made no mention of the plunge in the value of the dollar, which is hampering
economic recovery in Japan and Europe, M. Chirac said that the issue
had indeed been discussed. "Every one of us agrees that the stability
of currencies is very much needed to encourage growth," he said.
The summit put out more than
a score of statements on various issues, including clean water, illegal
logging, and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Aid agencies
and pressure groups said when it came to the Third World issues that
France had originally placed at the heart of the summit, the Evian gathering
had merely repeated, or even diluted, commitments given at previous
Nathan Ford, medical director
for the humanitarian aid organisation Médécins sans Frontières
in the UK, said that the Okinawa summit in 2000 had made great progress
in the area of access to cheap, generic medicines for poorer countries
to fight Aids and other diseases. Three years later, those promises
were mostly unfulfilled. He said the problem with G8 summits was that
they were "unaccountable" inter-governmental meetings with
no institutional or legal substance to help to ensure that decisions
were carried out.
One senior government official,
asked to list Evian's achievements, pointed to the US promise (pre-Evian)
to give $15bn (£9.2bn) to fight Aids in poor countries over five
years; the European promises (at Evian) to match that figure; and new
declarations on the fight against terrorism and the non-proliferation
of nuclear weapons. He also said that the positive meeting between President
Chirac and President George Bush should help to clear away some of the
poisonous clouds lingering from the Iraq crisis.
The trouble with G8 summits,
the senior official said, was that they had swollen to such a grand
scale that "modest but real achievements" seemed inadequate.
WHAT WAS ACHIEVED?
* US to give £9bn over
five years to fight Aids in the developing world.
* Europe to try to match
* New US-inspired commitment
to fight nuclear proliferation.
* A positive declaration
on the economy - "Conditions for a recovery are in place."
* New counter-terrorism action
* No serious consideration
of plunge of dollar.
* No progress on trade argument.
* No real progress on relieving
debt of poorest countries.
* No real progress on cheaper
medicines for developing world.
* No real progress on improving
water supplies in developing world.