WEF looks favorably on the G20. It claims that the G20 can be the new global social-political-economic leader, one capable of providing appropriate goals, correcting global wobbles, and managing conflicts between other governing Actors far better than its predecessor, the G7/G8.
The G7 started as the G6, and then Canada wanted to join the group and it became the G7. Other OECD countries, some of which had larger economies than some of the G7 nations, thought they should be given a formal, permanent seat. This would have changed of the name of the group to the G9, G10, G11, and so on. These reasonable demands were partially resolved by extending annual informal invitations to non-G7 OECD countries and to selected non-OECD countries to attend parts of the G7 meetings.
The G7 became the G7/G8 after the end of the Cold War. Russia was invited to join the economic discussions (the G8) but excluded from the coordination meeting on geo-political-military matters (which continued as the G7).
With leadership from then Canadian Minister of Finance Paul Martin, 1 ministers and central bankers from selected former colonies in the South and China joined with G7/G8 ministers and bankers to discuss macroeconomic matters. When the G7/G8 saw that it needed to again re-fashion itself, it upscaled the twenty member Canadian ministry of finance group to the heads of state/government level and created the G20. As the model was centered on ministries of finance and central banks, the criteria for the fourteen new members of the G20 was the relative financial importance of the former colonies, not necessarily their political, economic, environmental, or social importance.
The G20’s strength for the WEF is that it better reflects the redistribution of nation-state power in today’s globalized world. It also shakes up the rather moribund G7/G8 meetings that in any case were no longer dominating the direction of global geo-politics. With the history of the G7/G8 in mind, GRI proposed four significant institutional changes in the workings of the G20.
First, WEF wants to associate the G20 with the UN and therefore with other nation-states. The benefit of this proposal is that the G20 can gain a platform to encourage other nation-states to accept its leadership and its specific proposals. The semi-formal relationship with the UN is intended to enhance G20 legitimacy in the eyes of the universal membership body. In terms of procedure, GRI suggests that the G20 formalize its current ad hoc guest relationship with ECOSOC and clearly designate the Secretary-General as the 21st ex officio member of the G20. GRI also wants the incoming, current, and future chairs of the G20 to issue a joint report to the other UN member states on the recent activities of the G20 and to have its ministers brief the ECOSOC on G20 developments in person. 2
Second, GRI recommends that the G20 avoid the membership rigidity that restricted the effectiveness of the G7/G8. It proposes that the G20 agree early on to keep its membership criteria flexible. Over time, some more economically successful countries may falter or fall out of favor with key G8 countries. And other countries with a broader political and/or social basis in regional affairs may need to be drawn into the group. In the editors’ introduction, Samans, Schwab, and Malloch-Brown recommend that the G20 re-think its membership every decade, using a combination of regional balance (two per region) and global importance to select its 20 state-members. 3
At the UN, regional balancing has often meant that each region self-selects its representatives. This has led to some uncomfortable moments, as other regions find a regionally selected country politically inappropriate. Consequently, GRI recommends that potential regional countries should be excluded from G20 membership if they are currently under Security Council sanctions.
GRI also proposes that regional organizations be given observer status at the G20. In the first instance, this might mean that “the EU, ASEAN, African Union, and OAS” would regularly attend G20 meetings as observers. 4 At the moment there are over 30 regional inter-governmental organizations similar to the four named above. This recommendation reflects GRI’s awareness that important countries are increasingly seeing regional bodies as significant players in developing and implementing their economic and political objectives.
In the G7/G8 structure, the staffing was provided by the country which held the annually rotating Chairmanship. The G7 did not want to establish an ‘independent secretariat’ as that might imply the de facto leadership by one of the G7 countries. While this resulted in discontinuities in policy planning and failures in policy implementation, the G7/G8 preferred flexibility and an informal structure to one that had a firm institutional base. WEF suggests that the G20 would be more effective with a secretariat based in a developing country and that it should be staffed by senior officials from the incoming, current, and former Chair’s countries. In this manner, the politics of deciding on a lead OECD country is finessed, and the dysfunction of a constantly changing staff is minimized. 5
Related Ideas: Arrangements out of step; Public governance failures; G20 top down; Reconciliation; Anchoring G20 inside the UN; Early harvest; G20 stewardship; G20 + 3Gs; Added leadership; G20 + ECOSOC; Financial risk watchdog; Education; Worker protection; Joint review
The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples and commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.