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G8 still needed, deputy foreign affairs minister says

01.01.70

EDMONTON (CUP) - The Group of Eight summit is an important catalyst for creating discussion and support for domestic and international issues, Canada's deputy minister of foreign affairs told an Alberta audience.

Amongst the criticisms and controversy surrounding recent multilateral political meetings, V. Peter Harder shared his thoughts on the role of the Group of Eight (G8) in a lecture titled "The G8 and Multilateralism: Do Either Matter?" and hosted by the Institute for Public Economics & Alberta Finance.

Harder, a veteran G8 delegate who has served as the deputy minister for Industry Canada and for the Treasury Board, stressed the importance and effectiveness of the G8 body - especially in an era of globalization and increasing international interdependence.

"The G8 matters because it has made progress on global issues - whether on agreeing on public policies to be supported, or in some cases, taking collective action as a community of eight," Harder said.

While membership in the G8 is currently exclusive to the leading Western industrial democracies and the Russian Federation, the G8's discussions and policies have shifted to become more inclusive concerning the issues faced by non-member states and their citizens.

"The G8 and multilateral institutions matter when they hear the voices of those that are shaping the world. How are we grappling with rising powers is a G8 challenge. Of those who have little power is a G8 challenge - even though the G8 fashions itself as the leading group of Western industrial democracies," Harder said.
The recent G8 summit in July not only included discussions with non-member states, but with various civic and social organizations.

"Increasingly, it is also about how we engage civil society as well," Harder said. "It has now become practice that the G8 will not just be a meeting of the countries represented in this organization, but a deliberate invitation that, preference to the host and subject matter, is now commonplace."

However, many civil society organizations and groups have also critiqued and questioned the effectiveness of the G8 on matters of growing international concern - from issues ranging from the climate and the environment, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to disaster response.

"Many have said that the communications put out by the G8 is nothing but words and that the summits have lost their meaning and are just a media showcase. I wouldn't share that view. I don't want overstate the role of the G8 but I think it's too easy to understate how important [it is] in the international arena," Harder said, later commenting that there are other important elements in the discussion process.

"Agreeing on a problem, on the priority of issues, and on the principles that must guide our actions are critical components to action and resolution. I believe that the G8, even at the recent G8 summit, made some important gains in broad areas from energy and the pandemic issue," Harder said, suggesting that the G8 discussion process can foster international awareness and dialogue of other global issues.

"The G8 can impel positive change in the multilateral system by identifying capacity gaps in the international architecture and propose practical solutions that will attract wide support," he said.

Harder remains optimistic that the G8 will continue to make progress on global issues in the future.

"In summary, I believe that the G8 is an important instrument of Canadian multilateralism engagement, that it is an evolving instrument, that process does matter," Harder said. "But at the end of the day, it's substance, deliverables, and results that will measure success and I believe that there has been significant success in this process."

Expert opinion

Halter Marek

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Halter Marek
Le College de France
Olivier Giscard dEstaing

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Olivier Giscard dEstaing
COPAM, France
Mika Ohbayashi

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Mika Ohbayashi
Institute for Sustainable Energy Poliy
Bill Pace

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Bill Pace
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
Peter I. Hajnal

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Peter I. Hajnal
Toronto University, G8 Research Group