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What Might Come from the G7 Biarritz Summit

Julia Tops and Angela Min Yi Hou
August 24, 2019

On 24-26 August 2019, the 45th G7 leaders' summit takes place in Biarritz, France. Under the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron, this year's G7 presidency focuses on the cross-cutting theme of tackling inequality. The priority of inequality mirrors both France's domestic controversies and incentives, as well as its international leadership in global governance. This theme is applied to five key summit priorities: 1) climate and biodiversity, 2) peace against security threats and terrorism, 3) defending democracy, 4) digital development and artificial intelligence, and 5) renewed partnerships with Africa.

G7 summits are historically, and will continue to be, greatly affected by changes in the global political climate before and during the summit. Conventionally geopolitical or environmental in nature, these shocks often commandeer the leaders' discussions and subsequently shape summit outcomes. This year, the recent climate shock of the Amazon fires influenced the French agenda, as Macron proposed a discussion about this imminent biodiversity disaster at the Biarritz Summit, bringing the issue to the forefront of both global audiences and domestic constituencies in G7 members.

At the Biarritz Summit, one can hope for concrete and optimistic outcomes on issues relating to socioeconomic empowerment and development, especially through the lens of climate, gender and inclusive economic growth. First, the French presidency has demonstrated strong leadership in key issues consistent with the themes of the G7 Charlevoix Summit in 2018 and the G20 Osaka Summit in June 2019. Namely, these summits share an emphasis on regulating digitalization and artificial intelligence, mainstreaming gender equality, and combating climate change. Second, the Biarritz Summit introduced a renewed format to the ministerial and consultation processes to actively include African partners, major Commonwealth democracies, international organizations and key civil society stakeholders. This change is timely and critical — intersectoral and interdisciplinary cooperation between different structures in global governance can lead to significant improvement in the financing, coordination and implementation of global initiatives.

This year, President Macron publicly stated his intent to produce a chair's summary, rather than a negotiated communiqué. This means that chair's summary will reflect discussions from the summit, but the text will not be negotiated and agreed to word by word. However, there remains a possibility that a communiqué will issued when the summit ends on Monday, 26 August 2019, in addition to issue-specific declarations.

Nonetheless, summit documents pertaining to issue area coalitions may hint at a new chapter in global governance. Rather than showcasing G7 solidarity through a communiqué, functionally oriented documents (such as the Plastics Charter at Charlevoix 2018, which was agreed to by all G7 members except Japan and the United States) shows how traditional alliances are no longer sufficient to address global challenges. A chair's summary may provide an opportunity for additional and more specific supporting documents, comprising language that binds leaders to stronger and more pointed commitments.

For example, on development, especially in Africa and the Sahel region, a chair's summary could establish commitments with specific timelines and references to core international organizations under the Biarritz Summit's new format. Rather than adopting a watered-down communiqué by consensus, G7 members could focus on the consequential and detail-oriented commitments that will make a difference. The consultative process will allow for feedback from African counterparts, who were involved in the early stages of the summit process. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is another stakeholder involved in providing policy insights to the summit's negotiations. The European Union's commitment to replenishing the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is another example of this trend. The G7 Research Group's findings have noted that references to core intergovernmental organizations and the inclusion of multi-year timetables can increase the feasibility, efficiency and compliance of G7 commitments. This configuration of summit documents at the Biarritz Summit will create an environment conducive to specificity and stronger pledges from the members.

Between now and next November, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the United States will host the BRICS, G20 and G7 summits respectively. As host of these plurilateral meetings, these countries are not widely considered as contemporary champions of the liberal international order. Given what Macron dubbed a "crisis of democracy," the G7 Biarritz Summit takes place at a critical juncture when global governance based on shared values and a distinctive mission of open democracy is more necessary than ever. Although the G7 consortium may be fractured by low domestic political cohesion and seemingly insurmountable divisions between the members, the G7 remains a central grouping of developed economies with the capacity and political will to solve the world's most pressing challenges.

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Angela Min Yi HouAngela Min Yi Hou is co-chair of summit studies with the G7 Research Group, a compliance director with the G20 Research Group and an editor of the BRICS Research Group, all based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She is starting graduate studies at the Geneva Institute of International and Development Studies.
Julia TopsJulia Tops is the co-chair of summit studies with the G7 Research Group and a researcher with the G20 Research Group. She joined the G7 and G20 Research Groups in her first year of studies at the University of Toronto. Her research interests focus on gender and employment issues, in addition to her other interests in development and international law. Julia is working on a master's in development studies at the London School of Economics and Politics..

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