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Impressions of the Denver Summit

by Sir Nicholas Bayne

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Denver had a heavy agenda, embracing economic subjects, both traditional and new; global issues; foreign policy; and institutional reform. The summit urged Russian integration into the world economy and addressed conditions in Ukraine, including nuclear safety. But otherwise economic help for Eastern Europe and the former USSR, which has been on the summit agenda since Paris 1989, featured hardly at all at Denver.

The key economic issues which engaged the leaders were Africa and employment. It was a welcome innovation for the summit to address Africa's problems. But the results are a bit disappointing - see below. Employment was still of concern to the heads of government, despite the efforts of Detroit/Naples (1994) and Lille/Lyon (1996). There was ready assent to the British proposal to feature employment again in 1998 - the US and UK will work very closely together on this over the next twelve months.

The key global issue was the environment, where the leaders were unable to resolve transatlantic differences on climate change and forests. The heads also had a lively exhange on international crime. A very long list of other global issues is covered in the summit documents. Denver gave progress reports on infectious diseases, terrorism, drugs, nuclear safety, money laundering, financial crime and corruption and added the new issues of human cloning and the space station.

Foreign policy issues were not salient. NATO enlargement was discussed on the side, but was not on the formal agenda. Bosnia received attention but without the urgency of the two previous years. Many of the foreign policy topics treated in the summit documents are linked to the global issues agenda, such as nuclear smuggling and plutonium management.

The impetus toward the reform of international institutions, started at Halifax in 1995, was still evident in Denver two years later. There was serious work done by G7 finance ministers on financial market regulation, linked to the IMF, BIS etc, though this is clearly far from complete. There was further attention to the United Nations and to environmental institutions.

But the problem is that the summit has not found satisfactory institutional homes for the other global issues, except for money laundering. The leaders therefore expand the apparatus of G7 and G8 working groups, without ever taking any items off their agenda. The initial Halifax reform process may now have run its course. It will be up to the British at Birmingham to lay out a new reform agenda - if they decide to do so.

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