Civil G8 2006

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Expert Opinion

Peter I. Hajnal


Toronto University,
G8 Research Group

Paper prepared for the Civil G8 conference
Moscow, 2 December 2006

Peter I. Hajnal
G8 Research Group, University of Toronto


The main agenda items of the 15-17 July 2006 St. Petersburg summit were energy security, health/infectious diseases, and education. Civil society had much to offer in all three areas for the consideration of summit leaders and their teams.

In the lead-up to the summit, during 2005 and 2006, Russia sent out mixed signals on civil society relations. On the positive side, the Russian sherpa participated at the Chatham House G8 stakeholder consultation project (at both the 23 March and the 7-8 November 2005 meetings with civil society and other stakeholder representatives) where he affirmed his government’s desire to continue the dialogue.

On the other hand, new legislation was passed by the Russian Duma on 21 December 2005 (with 376 votes for and 10 against) that would curtail the freedom of activity within Russia of NGOs with links to international or foreign NGOs - although the legislation as passed is less severe than the original draft had called for, the government having dropped provisions forcing foreign NGOs to register as purely Russian ones. President Vladimir Putin’s supporters in the Duma claimed that the new legislation would serve national security purposes, but his critics complained that this was an attempt to control one of the few remaining sectors not yet controlled by the state. The law was signed by Putin before the end of 2005 and went into effect in April 2006. It is hoped that the new legislation would not affect adversely the functioning of indigenous Russian NGOs as long as they work within Russian rules and legislation.


Dialogue

In an encouraging development, in the lead-up to St. Petersburg, Putin established a Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, chaired by Ella Pamfilova who announced at a 2005 year-end press conference that major Russian NGOs had initiated the formation of a “Civil G8 2006” “to support the Russian leadership’s expressed willingness to co-operate with Russian and international civil society organisations during its G8 presidency.” The Civil G8’s aim was to have an impact on the dialogue and to help bring the G8 agenda closer to the public. In February 2006 the Civil G8 set up an Advisory Council of Russian and international experts to guide its programme and process.

The Civil G8 mounted an ambitious programme, designed to develop proposals based on NGO positions on the three main topics of the G8’s St Petersburg agenda, but also to allow for input on additional issues of civil society interest; to organize national and international discussions in order to set civil society priorities and approaches vis-à-vis the official 2006 G8; to evaluate projects, ideas and recommendations of social significance for the G8; and to develop ideas and recommendations for subsequent G8 summits.

A series of conferences, seminars and roundtable discussions were held throughout 2006, mostly in Moscow. A roundtable discussion of NGO experts on global energy security, education and infectious diseases took place on 16 February, culminating in an international NGO forum on 9-10 March, called “The Contribution of Civil Society Institutions to the G8 Agenda”. The forum coincided with a meeting of G8 sherpas, and, for the first time in civil society relations with the G8, all nine sherpas (from each of the G8 countries plus the European Union) participated, assembled on the stage facing the more than 300 Russian and international participants whose representatives posed a number of questions. Each sherpa, in turn, addressed the participants, though not all questions from the floor were answered. Participants could not reach consensus by the end of the two-day forum, but a week or so later the final recommendations - on energy, global pandemics, education, human security, trade and development (including African development), and intellectual property - were transmitted to the Russian sherpa.

In the pre-summit stage (April-July), the Civil G8 engaged in advocacy for the proposals of the March forum so as to achieve maximum impact, and to advance cooperation between civil society and the G8 through another series of conferences, seminars and round table discussions. In one event during this stage, on 18 May, a smaller group of NGO representatives met in the Russian city of Kazan with all nine sherpas who were holding their meeting there on 18-19 May.

On 3-4 July an international “Civil G8 2006” forum was held in Moscow with more than 600 Russian and international participants. The forum transmitted its recommendations to G8 leaders on topics coinciding with, but also going well beyond, the official summit agenda: genetically modified organisms crops and food; mechanisms of interaction of business and society; infectious diseases; global security and the interests of society; energy security; education; biological diversity; human rights; and the strengthening of global social and economic policies for sustainable human development. In a significant precedent in summit history, Putin addressed the forum and made a statement in which he included this promise: “I want to assure you that everything that you expound will, in essence, reach the G8 countries' heads, and that not only will we study them attentively, but we will also analyse them most critically, and will take them into account in making ultimate decisions.” He singled out for special attention the NGO proposal concerning systematic mechanisms, consultation, and monitoring the implementation of summit undertakings. Having delivered his statement, he answered a number of questions from the forum’s representatives, showing openness and readiness to engage in discussion, and demonstrating that he was well briefed on most issues that came up.

After the summit, the Civil G8 focused on the implementation and monitoring of G8 summit decisions, on evaluating the results of the consultative process, and on preparing recommendations for officials of the German-hosted 2007 summit. The final event is a conference of Russian and international NGOs on 2 December, called “Delivering the 2006 G8 Agenda”. It is hoped that the Russian and German sherpas will be present.

Apart from the Civil G8, heads and delegates of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto and Hindu religious communities from 49 countries met in Moscow 3-5 July for a “World Summit of Religious Leaders.” They sent an appeal to the G8 leaders, to their religious communities and to people of good will everywhere, calling for dialogue and partnership among civilizations for a democratic, participatory decision-making process, placing high value on human life, condemning terrorism, emphasizing the importance of religious freedom, upholding ethical values, and maintaining responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources.

A month before the summit, the national science academies of the G8 countries and Brazil, China, India and South Africa signed two joint statements: one on energy sustainability and security and the other on avian influenza and infectious diseases. These address two of the main agenda items of the St. Petersburg summit from the perspective of the scientific community.

The Russian hosts also used other tracks for dialogue with civil society. This process involved smaller select groups of representatives rather than large groups. The J8 youth forum (already active before the Gleneagles summit) participated around St. Petersburg as well. 64 young people (eight from each G8 country) between the ages of 13 and 17 participated in the “Junior 8 Summit” on 7-18 July in Pushkin, near St. Petersburg. They discussed issues on the summit agenda (energy, education and infectious diseases) but also questions of tolerance and violence. In a further instance of consultation with the host government, participants shared their ideas with the Russian minister of health and development, as well as with the Russian sherpa. They presented an Address to the Leaders when eight youth representatives met with the G8 leaders on 16 July in the Konstantinovskii Palace in Strelnya, near St. Petersburg (the site of the leaders’ meetings). Putin addressed the J8 on 14 July and answered questions from representatives. This was another G8 “first”.

A dialogue with trade union leaders – following a long G7/G8 tradition of such meetings – was also part of the St. Petersburg process. Representatives of Russian and international trade union leaders met with Putin on 6 July for 75 minutes. The trade unionists presented the host G8 leader with their Trade Union Statement to the G8 Saint-Petersburg Summit, approved at their 5-6 July meeting. The statement addressed questions on the official summit agenda and issues beyond it, all from a labour perspective: respect for workers’ fundamental rights; financing development; action on health; the need for a genuine development round in the multilateral trade negotiations; energy security, environmental protection and job competitiveness; achieving G8 aims in the field of education; and migration and international mobility of labour. Putin promised that he would take all the proposals to his fellow leaders.

A three-hour meeting occurred at the President’s residence in Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow, in the evening of 4 July between Putin and heads of the following international NGOs: Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Social Watch, CIVICUS, ActionAid, Consumers International, Human Rights Watch, Global Campaign for Education, Global Campaign against Poverty, International Council of Women, and Transparency International. The Russian sherpa and Ella Pamfilova also participated. The NGO heads presented a wide-ranging communiqué to Putin, addressing climate change, energy and energy security; poverty and development objectives for the G8 (including aid, debt, education and health, conditionality and international financial institutions’ governance reform, trade and livelihoods), and human security including proliferation issues. After the meeting, Kumi Naidoo, the head of the Global Campaign against Poverty, stated: “We hope the G8 leaders will take into account the main ideas, and that such meetings will become regular, and the governments of G8 countries will cooperate with NGOs on a permanent basis.” Putin, on his part said that he did “not rule out permanent dialogue between G8 and NGOs.”

During 2006 G8 meetings of energy, education, health, science, as well as finance and foreign ministers took place both before and after the St. Petersburg summit. Most such meetings can be useful venues for productive interaction, including dialogue, with civil society. (In fact, the energy-related recommendations of the Civil G8’s March Forum were given to the energy ministers in time for their meeting on 15-16 March.) Another G8-inspired group, the Africa Partnership Forum, is crucial in this respect, particularly since Russia, as G8 chair in 2006, has not put Africa specifically on the St. Petersburg summit’s agenda; however, Russia is also co-chairing the APF whose semiannual meetings provide a useful opportunity to promote the development and well-being of that continent.


Counter-summits and Demonstrations

An alternative summit, called “The Other Russia”, was held in Moscow on 11-12 July by civil society advocacy groups and Russian opposition figures. This meeting followed the “altremondiste” tradition, after the pattern of the World Social Forum and some earlier counter-summits. Participants numbered in the hundreds and included human rights campaigners including Lyudmila M. Alekseyeva and Sergei A. Kovalyov, former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov, chess master and opposition politician Garry Kasparov, and former Russian sherpa Andrei N. Illarionov. They advocated the rule of law in Russia and expressed opposition to what they termed increasingly arbitrary and antidemocratic measures of the government. Russian officials, including the Russian sherpa, criticized those western diplomats who attended (these included the UK ambassador and two senior US diplomats). It should be noted, however, that the fact the counter-summit was held openly showed that the Russia of 2006 was not a totalitarian country. Moreover, members of certain mainstream opposition parties refused to attend a meeting in which former hard-line communists participated. And shortly after the counter-summit Roland Götz, Russia specialist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs was quoted as saying: “I don’t think that ‘The Other Russia’ forum will have a big impact on the G8 summit. Western leaders are well aware of the problems of civil society in Russia … They didn’t learn anything new.”

The agenda of “The Other Russia” included civil rights, “inner war”, “violation of society and nature”, and “authority and society”. Participants sent a letter to the G7 (not G8) leaders, voicing their concern over the “full-scale campaign of political repression … in Russia” and detention and physical abuse of Russian opposition figures. They called upon “the leaders of the free world to demand from Russian President Vladimir Putin the immediate release of all the victims of this campaign of repression and to cease all unlawful actions against the political opposition.” Putin, at his end-of-summit press conference, answered a reporter’s question regarding “The Other Russia”: that it was “another sign that democratic processes are developing normally here and that we have a functioning opposition. … [I]f the opposition says some constructive things, it is really our duty, in my view, to take these opinions into account.”

As was the case for four previous summits, a “the poor people’s summit” was organized for the fifth time in Mali, this time in the town of Gao, some thousand kilometres from the capital Bamako. The 500 participants from 60 NGOs (mostly from Africa but some from Europe and North America) discussed debt and privatization, and voiced strong disappointment at the scant attention that the St. Petersburg summit paid Africa and the inadequate follow-up to previous G8 commitments to alleviate poverty on the continent.

A few small demonstrations and protests took place around the time of the summit. Some were staged by an odd assortment of communist opposition figures and other groups including the far-right, white supremacist Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, along with human rights activists, environmental campaigners and a few anarchists. On 14 July anti-globalization activists (estimates of their number ranged from 100 to 300) gathered for a two-day rally called the Russian Social Forum, on the grounds of the Kirov stadium in the outskirts of St. Petersburg and 20 kilometres from the summit site. Participants planned to have a demonstration in the centre of St. Petersburg but they did not receive the necessary permit. Nevertheless, a small protest group of about 250 people, organized by the Communist Party, gathered in central St. Petersburg. It was reported that both at the stadium and in central St. Petersburg there were many more Russians than foreign demonstrators.


Civil Society in Summit Documents

In his end-of-summit press conference, Putin, reporting on the summit, stated: “our discussions took into account recommendations made by two very important forums that took place in Moscow at the beginning of July – the World Summit of Religious Leaders and the International Forum of Non-Governmental Organisations, the Civil G8 2006. These two forums were organised on the Russian presidency’s initiative. The summit’s discussions resulted in the substantial outcome of a whole range of agreements that are reflected in the corresponding documents.” If this was indeed the case, it would indicate substantial civil society impact on the outcome. So, it is worth asking: how is civil society reflected in the public documents of the summit, which are the main vehicle of communicating summit results?

The twin documents on energy security, the centrepiece of the St. Petersburg agenda – the G8 statement, Global Energy Security and its annex, the St. Petersburg Plan of Action on Global Energy Security – make no reference to civil society or NGOs. But a few other St. Petersburg documents do; for example, the statement Education for Innovative Societies in the 21st Century; the G8 Summit Declaration on Counter-Terrorism; and the Report of the Nuclear Safety and Security Group.

The document Education for Innovative Societies in the 21st Century promises: “Our governments will promote dialogue and synergies with business, higher education and labour to develop sound higher education and human resources policies” (para. 10), and states that the leaders “welcome active participation of the business community and non-governmental organizations in the development of continuous education that provides the competences and skills needed by our societies and economies” (para. 17). More vaguely, the statement undertakes that the G8 countries “will adhere to the … principles … [of] continued involvement of all relevant partners, including civil society … in the activities to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to reduce stigma and discrimination against people with this disease” (para. 17). The G8 Summit Declaration on Counter-Terrorism reaffirms the commitment to engage “in active dialogue with civil society to prevent terrorism” (para. 4). The Report of the Nuclear Safety and Security Group to the leaders mentions “governmental and non-governmental efforts and initiatives” to promote reactor safety in light of the Chernobyl nuclear accident 20 years earlier.


Civil Society Reaction to the St. Petersburg Summit

The generally critical tone of civil society views of the St. Petersburg summit are illustrated by the press releases during and after the summit of a sample of NGOs and other civil society organizations:

• Amnesty International, in a statement issued on 18 July, “deplored the failure of G8 member states to put the protection of civilians above politics in their discussions of the conflict and condemned continuing attacks on civilian by both Israel and Hizbullah … [In the aftermath of the escalation in the Hezbollah-Israel conflict,] the G8 leaders have failed conspicuously to uphold their moral and legal obligation to address such blatant breaches of international humanitarian law.”

• A media release by DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa) of 24 July was entitled “DATA Calls on G8 and EU Political Leaders to Make Good on Their Promise to Make Trade Work for Africa.”

• Friends of the Earth International stated on 14 July, on the basis of a leaked draft document: the “G8 plans to address global energy security are dirty, dangerous and will continue to fuel climate change. Despite G8 pledges to take action against climate change, the draft plan currently includes backwards proposals for major investment in finding new oil and gas reserves, for increased oil refining capacity and for greater reliance on nuclear power.”

• An Oxfam International spokesperson asserted on 17 July: “By downplaying the fight against poverty, the G8 ignored the world's most critical crisis, one that will kill 11 million children by the time they next meet. Next year Chancellor Merkel must put the fight against poverty at the heart of the G8 agenda. Ending poverty is a race against time. This year the G8 were jogging in circles; Chancellor Merkel must make sure they are sprinting for the finish line in Germany next year.” On the summit's pledge to increase funding for the Global Fund, an OI advisor said: "we have stronger words than Gleneagles but [are] still seriously short on the cash."

• On 17 July, Greenpeace rejected the G8’s claims on energy security: “Once again the G-8 has failed to develop a strategy for real and sustainable energy security. The G-8 needs to get serious on these issues or it will drift into irrelevance.”

• Also on 17 July, Transparency International stated: "The G8’s statement on Fighting High-Level Corruption points to a maturing understanding of corruption and numbered days for impunity of public officials. The statements on oil and on Africa contain nods to the requisite initiatives, but are short on detail and lack concrete commitments."


Conclusions

What have we learned from the experience of civil society interaction with the G8 in 2006? Here are some reflections.

1. Russian and international NGOs networked successfully in 2006. This is always an important contributing factor to effective civil-society action.

2. Civil society has been most effective when it recognized and exploited linkages of G7 or G8 issues, for example between education and health. This was done to some extent, but not as much as it could have been, in 2006. (There is always the temptation for NGO groups to concentrate on issues of their narrower concern and expertise).

3. Taking into account the fact that the G8 summit is part of a continuum of various major international meetings is essential. NGOs this year were well aware of this dimension as well as of the implications for continuing attention and action around these other international fora, be they the UN, the WTO, the IEA, the WHO or other organizations.

4. Civil society has learned the lesson that thorough knowledge of the G8 system and process is crucial in order to maximize potential impact. In 2006 many NGOs have found themselves well positioned to ensure fruitful dialogue with the whole G8 system, including ministerial, task force and sherpa meetings, aware of their timing and agenda, as well as of the G8 member governments’ summit-supporting institutions.

5. Starting the dialogue and lobbying early in the summit process is another crucial factor for civil society to consider, since G8 agenda-building is at least a year-long process, being formulated gradually from one summit to the next. This was done admirably well in 2006 in Russia.

6. Often, certain NGOs and coalitions choose (on the grounds of principle or ideology) not to participate in dialogue or other constructive interaction with the G8. This is their democratic right but it is important to weigh carefully the costs and benefits of self-inclusion and self-exclusion, and to recognize that the price of self-exclusion is lack of influence on the G8. The experience of “The Other Russia” counter-summit bears this out.

7. Finally, and most important, Russia, in its first-time G8 presidency, demonstrated its openness and willingness, at the highest level, to engage with civil society to an unprecedented extent. The 2007 German presidency is likely to continue this very positive trend.



i Myers, Steven Lee, ‘Bill to Increase Russia’s Control over Charities Moves Ahead’, The New York Times, 22 December 2005, A3.

ii Teslenko, Peter, ‘Press Conference on Co-operation between Civil Society and the Group of Eight during Russia’s Presidency’, Moscow, 20 December 2005, http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/whatsnew/cs051220.html

iii For details of the Civil G8’s activities see http://www.civilg8.ru or http://en.civilg8.ru. See also Ella Pamfilova, “The Civil G8 2006” in G8 Summit 2006: Issues and Instruments, 23. Edited by Maurice Fraser (London: Newsdesk Communications, 2006).

iv See http://en.g8russia.ru/news/20060712/1174296.html>.

v See the website of The Royal Society at http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/displaypagedoc.asp?id=20741and http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/displaypagedoc.asp?id=20740. These statements follow on the academies’ statement on the global response to climate change issued in the lead-up to the 2005 Gleneagles summit, http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/displaypagedoc.asp?id=20742.

vi See the J8 website at http://www.j82006.com.

vii See http://en.g8russia.ru/news/20060718/1254740.html and http://juniorg8.com/press/main/?page=28.

viii See http://en.g8russia.ru/news/20060706/1169801.html and http://en.g8russia.ru/news/20060706/1168882.html

ix See http://en.g8russia.ru/news/20060704/1167224.html, http://en.g8russia.ru/news/20060704/1167339.html and http://en.g8russia.ru/news/20060704/1166906.html.

x The term is derived from “Un autre monde est possible” (another workd is possible), originating from the World Social Forum.

xi C. J. Chivers, “Rights Activists Gather to Call for Russian Evolution,” The New York Times, 12 July 2006: A3.

xii Francesca Mereu, “Opposition is Split after ‘Other Russia’,” The Moscow Times, 14 July 2006: 4.

xiii See http://www.theotherrussia.ru/eng See also Garry Kasparov, “What’s Bad for Putin Is Best for Russians,” The New York Times, 10 July 2006: A21.

xiv “Counter G8 Summit Disappointed at Little Attention Paid to Africa,” Agence France Presse newswire, 17 July 2006; “ ‘Poor.People’s Summit’ Slams G8 Policies,” All Africa, 18 July 2006.

xv “Far-Right Racists Join the Protests,” The Daily Telegraph, 14 July 2006; “Activists Keep up Pressure on G-8 Leaders to Alleviate Poverty,” Associated Press newswire, 15 July 2006; “At Carefully Staged G-8, Dissenters Kept in Wings,” The Washington Post, 16 July 2006.

xvi DATA, [President Putin’s] Press Statement Following the G8 Summit, 18 July 2006. http://en.g8russia.ru/podcast/001/246/115/putin4_en.mp3

xvii Amnesty International, UN: Security Council Must Adopt Urgent Measures to Protect Civilians in Israel-Lebanon Conflict. Press release, 18 July 2006. http://news.amnesty.org/index/ENGIOR410122006

xviii DATA, DATA Calls on G8 and EU Political Leaders to Make Good on Their Promise to Make Trade Work for Africa. Media release, 24 July 2006. http://www.data.org/archives/000798.php.

xix Friends of the Earth International, G8 to Feed Oil Addiction, Fuelling Climate Change. Media advisory, 14 July 2006. http://www.foei.org/media/2006/0714.html.

xx Oxfam International, Oxfam Verdict on St. Petersburg G8 Summit. http://www.oxfam.org/en/news/pressreleases2006/pr060717_g8verdict;"Campaigners Say G8 AIDS Pledge Not Enough," Reuters Health E-Line, 17 July 2006.

xxi Greenpeace International, G-8 Fails To Develop Strategy for Energy Security
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/releases/g-8-fails-to-develop-strategy.

xxii Transparency International, The G8 Communiqué: Strong Words on Global Fight against Corruption, Treading Water on Africa and Oil, 17 July 2006. http://transparency.org/news_room/latest_news/press_releases/2006/2006_07_17_g8_communiqu

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