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Academic Symposium G8 2000
New Directions in Global Governance? G8's Okinawa Summit

19 - 20 July, 200, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan

Partners Or Adversaries? The G7/G8 Encounters Civil Society

Peter I. Hajnal*
University of Toronto

* I thank Jennifer Acorn and Diane Juricevic for their conscientious and enthusiastic research assistance in the preparation of this paper.


This paper begins with a review of the relationship of the G7/G8 and civil society, highlighting some of the milestones that mark the evolution of that relationship. It then proceeds to a specific case study of developing-country debt and the civil-society coalition Jubilee 2000. Finally, it presents some preliminary conclusions.

Three phases may be discerned in the course of the evolution of the G7/G8-civil society relationship: (1) mutual non-recognition; (2) generalized, undifferentiated civil-society response to the G7; and (3) issue-specific civil-society approaches to the G7/G8 and G7/G8 to civil society.

Phase 1: Civil society and the G7 ignore each other.

The G7/G8 saw itself from the very beginning of the summit process as an informal, nonbureaucractic forum of the leaders of the most advanced market economies with a democratic system of governance. Recognition of civil-society groups as interlocutors seems not to have entered the consciousness (at least the publicly expressed consciousness) of the G7 leaders and their support apparatus. On the other side, the power and importance of the G7 as a discrete entity does not appear to have been recognized during this phase by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and broader civil society.

Phase 2: Mutual recognition.

As the agenda of the summit expanded to embrace many issues beyond the early focus on macroeconomic policy coordination, civil society began to see the G7 as a legitimate target; that is, a target for lobbying as well as opposing the G7. This is understandable because many of these new issues are crucial to a wide variety of NGOs and civil-society coalitions. More generally, it was becoming common public knowledge that the G7 was indeed a powerful group that had evolved into what John Kirton has termed "a centre of global governance".

Initial civil-society reaction to the G7 took a rather undifferentiated form. This was "The Other Economic Summit" or TOES (sometimes called "the people's summit", the alternative summit, or "contre-sommet" (counter-summit) in French. The first TOES was organized by the London-based New Economic Foundation and took place simultaneously with the 1984 London Summit. TOES has met ever since in an event parallel with the summit, although its prominence has declined in favour of more focused, issue-oriented civil-society approaches to the G7 (and later, to a lesser extent, also to the G8). Each year's TOES features a civil-society coalition with varying NGO membership meeting in the G7/G8 summit city. The counter-summits run workshops and demonstrations, and produce press releases and often a counter-communiqué as well, criticizing the official G7/G8 communiqué. In recent years, TOES have created their own websites as their primary means of communication

The G7, on its part, was slower to acknowledge civil society. The terms "civil society" and "NGO" were not used in official G7 documents until the 1995 Halifax summit. Section 26 of the Halifax communiqué refers to NGOs and civil society in the context of promoting sustainable development and the reform of international financial institutions, adding that IFI reform should "encourage countries to follow participatory development strategies and support governmental reforms that assure transparency and public accountability, a stable rule of law, and an active civil society." And in section 37, headed "Coherence, Effectiveness and Efficiency of Institutions", the G7 undertakes that "to increase overall coherence, cooperation and cost effectiveness we will work with others to encourage improved coordination among international organizations, bilateral donors and NGO's."

The Halifax reference to civil society was only the beginning. The 1996 Lyon summit communiqué (section 34, "New Global Partnership on Development") refers to the need for "a strengthened civil society". The communiqué of the 1997 Denver Summit of the Eight goes further, "reaffirm[ing] the vital contribution of civil society" to the environment, democratic governance and poverty eradication (Section 13).

Last year's Cologne Summit communiqué mentions civil society three times, calling for governments, international governmental organizations, business, labour and civil society "to work together to … realize the full potential of globalization for raising prosperity and promoting social progress while preserving the environment"; citing the productive role that civil society and the private sector can play in "national efforts towards economic and structural reform and good governance" (Section 3); and, ironically (for the post-Seattle world), calling on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to be "more responsive to civil society while preserving its government-to-government nature" (Section 9).

Other levels of the G7/G8 system took up the civil society-WTO nexus in 1999. The G8 environment ministers (in March 1999) state that "transparency of the WTO and its openness to and effective engagement of the civil society are necessary for the continued public support for an open multilateral trading system" and the Chair's statement of the Trade Ministers Quadrilateral (in May of last year) adds that "that it [is] vital for us to pay due consideration to the concerns of civil society.

The trend is clear. The G7/G8 has expressed its increasing sense of the importance of civil society. This developing relationship reflects the evolution and maturing of both of these actors.

Phase 3: Issue-specific approaches.

This paper looks briefly at two of the many issues of concern both to the G7/G8 and civil society: this section touches on the environment and the case study comprising the next section discusses debt.

TOES began lobbying against the destruction of the rainforest as early as 1988, at the Ottawa People's Summit. One could not draw too much inference concerning civil-society influence on the G7, but it is an interesting fact that the 1989 Paris Summit of the Arch, in its communiqué, welcomed the German initiative in this area. In 1990 the NGO Friends of the Earth was hosting lectures and conducting a campaign on this issue; the same year the G7 initiated the Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian Rainforest.

In 1991 an "Enviro-summit" with a broader agenda met in London a few city blocks from the G7 summit site. This was during the lead-up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit at which NGOs really came into their own. By 1996 when G7 environment ministers met in Cabourg, France, they chose as one of their main themes the mobilization of civil society. And the communiqué of the most recent environment ministers' meting in Otsu, here in Japan in April of this year, states that "sustainable development should be pursued with the full participation of all stakeholders"; "welcome[s] the efforts of local governments, communities, private commercial enterprises and NGO's to promote sustainable development at the local level"; and expresses support for the "participation of stakeholders in developing, implementing and monitoring environmental policies locally nationally, and internationally."

Case study: developing-country debt and the Jubilee 2000 coalition

Third-world debt has been on the G7 agenda since 1982 and has, over the years, resulted in a number of initiatives, including HIPC in its various guises. Since G7 countries are the major lenders and exert great influence over the IMF, the World Bank and the Paris Club, it is not surprising that these countries (individually and as G7) have become a lighting rod for NGO campaigns for debt relief. The highest-profile NGO coalition concerned with debt is Jubilee 2000; it is a single-issue group that has specifically targeted the G7.

Jubilee 2000 is a well-organized group that uses sophisticated analysis, communication and campaign strategies. It was launched (largely as a church-based effort) in the United Kingdom in April 1996, although the idea of debt relief by the year 2000 first came up in 1990 under the aegis of the African Council of Churches. A number of well-established NGOs have come to support of join Jubilee; for example, Oxfam International and Christian Aid. Many environmental, social-justice and women's groups have associated themselves with the coalition.

The stated goal of Jubilee 2000 is "cancellation by the year 2000 of the unpayable debt owed by the world's poorest counties under a fair and transparent process" (Jubilee 2000's website, at In pursuit of this goal, Jubilee has used information technology with impressive effectiveness and sophistication. Its website is rich in content and appeals to a broad audience ranging from those that turn to it for practical information on getting involved in the campaign to those that seek detailed analytical studies.

It was Jubilee 2000 that organized a spectacular human chain of some 70,000 participants who surrounded the site of the 1998 Birmingham Summit and presented a petition to the leaders, asking for debt cancellation. This prompted an unprecedented G7/G8 reaction: British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on behalf of the G8, responded to the petition in a separate document of the summit. The campaign is picking up steam and is expected to reach 22 million signatures for the Okinawa Summit. In contrast with Birmingham and Cologne, this year Jubilee 2000–perhaps in acknowledgement of the financial and other difficulty of large numbers of demonstrators getting to Okinawa in person--calls for a "virtual human chain" through the use of internet and e-mail.

Jubilee 2000 understands the workings of the G7/G8 system very well indeed. It has followed and publicized the customary pre-summit visits of Japanese prime ministers Obuchi, then Mori, to the other summit countries. It has staged demonstrations at G7/G8 ministerial meetings. It is well aware of the sherpa and sous-sherpa process. It monitors and publicizes the performance of G7 governments and demands that those governments implement their past commitments.

Jubilee has reached for support to celebrities ranging from the Irish rock star Bono and former boxing champion Muhammad Ali to the Pope, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. And at the other end of the spectrum from celebrities, it has used a letter from an eight-year old English child to Prime Minister Blair that said: "Please lower the debt to the bottom. Please keep your promise like you said at the meeting last year. Congratulations on your baby Leo. Please think about babies in other counties". In its recent publications, Jubilee 2000 has compared debt to the slave trade and to drug addiction.

All this gives the whole debt issue a high public profile that governments and intergovernmental organizations would find difficult to match. Although it is impossible to measure the actual impact of Jubilee 2000 on G7 governments, there is a strong perception of its influence. A spokesperson for the World Bank states that "the pledges Clinton and Brown have made [to debt relief] would not have happened without Jubilee 2000. It's one of the most effective global lobbying campaigns I have ever seen." And the Financial Times adds in its February 17, 1999 issue that "When a plea for debt relief becomes the common cause of a coalition that embraces both the Pope and the pop world, creditors should take notice."

Jubilee 2000 has kept up the kind of popular pressure that governments in major democracies ignore at their peril. It is not unreasonable to surmise that this pressure has contributed to the recognition by G7 governments of the need to work with civil society and other non-state actors. This is evidenced dramatically by the Japanese government's outreach to civil society here in Okinawa: the recent Tokyo conference on the role of civil society in conflict prevention and the establishment at the summit site of an NGO centre are cases in point.

But a word of caution is in order. Sir Nicholas Bayne in his recent book, Hanging in There, has pointed out the danger of not differentiating between component groups of civil society. Some of those components are "constructive and well-informed" while others are "destructive and anarchistic".

I would add two other dimensions to this already-complex picture. First, a number of NGOs have achieved formalized relationships with IGOs—this has been the case at the UN for many decades, and even the WTO has co-opted a small group of NGOs; these NGOs do not attract media attention the way the protesters in the streets of Seattle, Washington or Windsor, Canada do. Is there a way for the G7/G8 to bring major, responsible NGOs into some sort of association? Second, when distinguishing components of civil society, it is useful to keep in mind the North-South divide that is as evident in the NGO world as among states.


What lessons can be drawn from the story of G7/G8-civil society interaction?

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