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Nicholas Bayne[1] and Robert D. Putnam

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Origins and Operations of the Summits

The Halifax G-7 Summit is the twenty-first in the summit series. It opens 20 years to the day after President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing of France, the founder of the summits, first revealed his thinking in public. James Reston, in The New Yorker as saying:

We have common problems of inflation and unemployment.... the spirit of cooperation is disappearing and we never have a serious conversation among the great capitalist leaders to say what we do now. The questions had to be discussed between people having major responsibilities - a matter of conversation between a very few people and almost on a private level.

An economic summit--a multilateral meeting of heads of government--was a novel idea in 1975. Such events were then extremely rare. The only regular series was the Commonwealth Head of Government Meetings, held every second year. But now, in the mi different shapes and sizes happen all the time. The European Union (EU), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Commonwealth and la Francophonie all hold regular or periodic summits at intervals fr occasional world summits, like the UN Environment Conference (UNCED) at Rio in 1992, and the UN Social Summit at Copenhagen in March 1995. All these summits are alike in being the apex of established organizations which meet regularly at lo preparations prior to the summit, with extensive documentation. The role of the heads of government is to put the finishing touches on this preparatory work and to add their authority to it.

But G-7 summits are not meant to be like that. They were created by President Giscard, with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany, in rebellion against the ordinary type of international meeting. As Finance Ministers, Giscard and Schmidt were frust (IMF) and World Bank meetings they had to attend. They found satisfaction only in the parallel, informal sessions they had with their American, British and Japanese counterparts. This group was originally called the Library Group, as it met in the Library gatherings were frank, compact, spontaneous and generated strong mutual respect and understanding. When they became French President and German Chancellor, Giscard and Schmidt set out to create the same sort of exclusive, anti-bureaucratic event at the le deserved attention at this level because of the way international pressures were already affecting domestic policy. Even after 20 years a surprising amount of the original inspiration survives. The summit remains small. Early in the summit process, it was decided that the composition would be only seven countries--Italy and Canada having joined the initial five Presidency when that position is not held by a G-7 country. The number of people in the room for actual discussions is also small: heads of government plus a single adviser apiece, supported occasionally by Foreign or Finance Ministers--never more. The ad Sherpas, and they are charged with preparing the summit and drafting any final documents. There is no secretariat, no headquarters, and no charter or rules or procedure. The organization and chairmanship is in the hands of the host country, and ending with Canada. There have been three of these seven-year cycles, so that the Halifax Summit is the third summit to be chaired by Canada, after Montebello in 1981 and Toronto in 1988.

This focus on direct, personal contact among the heads of government has its drawbacks. Sometimes the leaders do not get on--Chancellor Schmidt, for example, had some famous rows with President Jimmy Carter. Each leader's authority depends on his or her p leaders who are normally preoccupied with domestic issues are brought into direct contact with their peers and made to see the international implications of their policies.

Though the summits are small and personal, they have never been simple spontaneous fireside chats. They were always intended to reconcile differences and reach understandings among the members and to exert influence on the wider wor be carefully prepared and to have a means of recording the results. Giscard ensured meticulous advance preparation of the monetary understanding reached at the first summit, held at Rambouillet in November 1975. The Americans, influenced initially by US S together with the Japanese, have also paid much attention to the preparations and to the publicly issued documents. The Americans have seen the summits as vehicles to make public opinion more aware of international issues and have given increasing attenti

The summits, though free-standing, do not operate in a vacuum. The understandings reached by the G-7 are followed through in wider international organizations and give impetus to their work. Initially, the impetus could be seen particularly in the Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but now it can also be seen in the United Nations (UN) and NATO. To ensure consistency in all the areas covered, the Sherpas have had to draw other parts of th

There are dangers in involving national bureaucracies, and in covering the work of wider organizations, political as well as economic. Over time, the summits became overloaded, as there was no limit to the subjects which the leaders might be aske increasingly cumbersome, the published declarations longer and less focused. The leaders became frustrated that they were asked to address too many issues and the quality and the authority of their results suffered. The massive presence of the media led contrasted unfavourably with what the summits themselves achieved.

By the early 1990s, there was widespread dissatisfaction with the summit process, both in the media and among the leaders themselves. A movement began, first articulated by British Prime Minister John Major in 1992 and supported by the Canadian P

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