The Group of Eight (G8) is an alliance of the governments of the world’s richest seven industrialised countries PLUS RUSSIA, and IS DUE TO meet on 6–8 July at Gleneagles in Scotland. Paul Hampton explains why it is important to demonstrate against IT
The G8 (now France, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and Russia) was founded as the G6 in 1975, and met for the first time as the G8 in Birmingham, England in May 1998.
The G8 holds an annual economic and political summit of the heads of state with international officials, and there are numerous other meetings and research reports.
Although the G8 is not a formal institution or policy-making forum, and has no constitution and no permanent secretariat or headquarters, it is important for so-called “global governance”.
It began in the 1970s during a period of economic slowdown and political instability, following the oil price shock in 1973 and the Vietnam War.
Although summits have witnessed competition and rivalry between states, they have also been a forum for the ruling class and its representatives to manage crises and promote their own interests. The G8 has also been used to co-ordinate influence over the IMF and WTO, and to press the neoliberal agenda of privatisation, deregulation and capital mobility.
The last summit, held at Sea Island in the US, 8–10 June 2004, gives a good indication of the role of the G8. Previous differences over the Iraq war, which surfaced at the Evian summit in June 2003, were papered over. The G8 agreed a poverty reduction programme for Africa, signed up to Bush’s Middle East plan, agreed further limits on the proliferation of WMDs, and other measures on terrorism and the world economy.
Most ruling class pundits considered the Sea Island summit a success in re-establishing co-operation between the big powers. Certainly Bush benefited — bouncing up in the polls against Kerry. And these governments believe they have some momentum going to the Gleneagles summit this summer.
However, G8 summits have not simply been a matter for big power politics. Since the mid-1990s they have been the focus of demonstrations, counter-summits and anti-capitalist protest.
In Birmingham in 1998, 70,000 marched behind the Jubilee 2000 campaign to put debt relief on the agenda. At Genoa in 2001, more than 300,000 took part in demonstrations, suffering harsh repression from Italian police — including the killing of Carlo Giuliani. At Evian in 2003, 100,000 marched across the lake in Switzerland — the largest demo seen in that
In Birmingham the G8 promised to cut debt. However, a Jubilee report in 2003 showed that only a third of the $100 billion (£60 billion) write-off promised had been delivered.
Only eight of the world’s most impoverished countries have seen a significant cut in their payments, and four were actually paying more five years on than in 1998.
The debt relief also comes with strings. Countries have to follow World Bank and IMF policies to qualify for relief. So, for example, Senegal had to privatise its peanut industry, and Zambia its banking system, while Ghana had to raise VAT and fuel prices, and Rwanda cut its public spending.