The G8-G20 Roles and Relationship

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The G8-G20 Roles and Relationship
John Kirton Director, G8 Research Group; Co-director, G20 Research Group Paper prepared for a panel on “The Future of the G8 and G20 – Possible Scenarios” at an expert seminar on “The Future of the G8 and G20,” sponsored by the Universiteit Gent and Egmont, Fondation Universitaire/Universitaire Stichting, Brussels, April 26, 2010. Version of May 13, 2010.

Now that the Group of Twenty (G20) summit has arisen as the self-proclaimed permanent, premier forum for international economic governance, a lively debate has erupted about its relationship with the old Group of Eight (G8) and the role of both bodies in the years ahead. Many assume or argue that the G8 will and should fade away, fast, and the G20 assume all the broad agenda and functions the former has long had. Far fewer assert openly that that the new and diverse G20 may itself fade away along with the galvanizing economic crisis that gave it birth, leaving the G8 with its inner Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers to continue as the global steering group that counts. Given the durability of international institutions, it is more likely that both, rather than either or neither, will continue for the foreseeable future, in a relationship that could take several forms. The major possibilities are competition, passive mutual coexistence by dividing up the global policy agenda and governance functions, or active cooperation that brings the comparative advantage of each to reap the global governance synergies that await (Kirton 2009). After less than two years of G20 summitry, it is still too soon to conclude with complete confidence which scenario will spring to life. But there is already substantial evidence to suggest that the system is moving toward synergistic cooperation between the two G’s that will strengthen each and both in the medium term. The global demand for governance is pulling the system in that direction and the old G8 great powers and new G20-only systemically significant ones are starting to supply that demand by working together in this way. However, its realization will take smart, strategic leadership from the G8 and G20’s coming hosts and chairs, starting with Canada in June 2010. And if they provide it properly, in the longer term, the G8 and its G20 creation could become one, united above all by the values that the G8 has successfully pioneered since its start.

The Strengthening Success of the G8 and G20 Summits
The prospect that both the G8 and G20 summits will continue rests in the first instance on the fact that few international institutions, even informal plurilateral, globally-relevant summit-level ones, tend to fade away. As Appendix A exhibits, many such institutions show impressive longevity, dating back a century or more. The G8, born in 1975, is one of the oldest such bodies of global relevance and reach. After 36 years in operation, it is unlikely to disappear soon.

Kirton: The G8-G20 Roles and Relationship


Moreover, as Appendix B indicates, the G8 shows a substantial and strengthening performance over these years on all six dominant dimensions of governance which such bodies are expected to perform. It has an improving and now respectable record in delivering its commitments, by having its members comply with them within the year after they are made. It has also become, from its summit centre, a full-strength governance system, with a broad array of G8-centred bodies at the ministerial, official and civil society levels below. There are no signs that it is a global governance system on the wane. The G20, in its first two years of summit life, also shows signs of strengthening, even if it is still far less potent in its performance than the G8 has become. The G20 has beaten the G8 in the frequency of its summit meetings — having had five scheduled within its first two calendar years. Yet, as Appendix C shows, on all six dimensions of global...
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