Civil Society and the G8
An annual dialogue between civil society participants and senior G8 officials
Although there is a growing tendency for G8 governments to consult broadly with civil society on G8 agenda issues, up until the FIM experiment there was no history of civil society/G8 negotiations to draw upon. Therefore the FIM experience has been very much a learning-on-the-job process.
The FIM involvement with the G8 process was the direct result of a request from the Ford Foundation. Ford felt that if civil society was to increase its capacity to influence multilateral bodies, then it could not ignore the important role of the G8 and that some kind of dialogue was necessary.
The FIM Board of Directors vigorously debated the implications of this proposal. Ultimately they felt that FIM could proceed only if certain conditions were respected. First, throughout the process every effort must be made to ensure that FIM not be perceived by any interlocutor as a spokesgroup for, or the gatekeeper of global civil society. Secondly, any consultation is not intended, in any way, to meet a specific host country agenda, but is instead an effort to deal with the G8 as a whole. Thirdly, the project is intended to improve the quality of the consultative process between the G8 and civil society and is not designed to deal with the content of any specific agenda. This latter role would be more appropriate for other civil society organisations. Fourthly, this project should not convey, directly, or indirectly, any legitimacy onto the G8 as a global governance structure.
The FIM Board recognized openly from the outset that this would be a long-term venture.
The first dialogue was held in 2002 in Ottawa prior to the Kananaskis G8 meeting. In preparation for the 2005 G8 in the UK FIM is proposing a similar format to that which was used in Kananaskis and Evian, France.
For each meeting, FIM selected approximately fifteen participants from civil society. In determining the selection of the civil society participants FIM ensures regional and gender balance as well as a majority of participants from the South. Generally speaking, roughly three participants from each of Asia , South America/Caribbean, Africa/mid-East, Europe and North America are invited by FIM.
Participants are chosen in their own capacity and are not formal representatives of any network or body of civil society.
FIM has learned some important lessons from the Canadian and French G8s.
1. It is not necessarily in the best interests of civil society to encourage any ‘institutionalization’ of the G8. As difficult as it is to deal with such a ‘moving target’, the possibility of encouraging, even indirectly, a permanent and inevitably powerful secretariat, is fraught with danger.
2. It is not feasible to try to identify an organization or structure which ‘represents’, and is legally accountable to international civil society.
3. The voice of Southern civil society is an important component for effective G8 agenda planning. It is essential that this voice be channelled directly, rather than via Northern-based ‘representatives’.
4. A strong majority of G8 members are willing to support the FIM effort.
5. International civil society has within its ranks the
knowledge, experience and diplomatic skills required to contribute meaningfully to the G8 exercise.