G8/G20 Should Open Door Wider to Civil Society

PARIS – France’s theme is “New world, New Ideas” for the G8 and G20 summits it is hosting this year. Our community certainly has its own suggestions over what the priorities should be and how the system can be improved.

Last week, dozens of members of civil society groups worldwide – including InterAction -- met in Paris to discuss a joint strategy for the summits of the Group of Eight industrialized nations and the Group of 20 countries, which includes emerging economies such as Brazil and South Africa. An over-riding wish expressed by many delegates to our conference, which was hosted by the French civil society “platform” Coordination Sud, was for greater access and participation by our community in the entire G8/G20 process. This access should be improved on many levels if world leaders are to be held accountable for the many promises they make at international meetings, from pledging more funds for nutrition to debt cancellation and creating jobs. A lack of transparency affects development initiatives from the outset. One wish is that civil society would like more information about the working groups which prepare for the summits. What are the terms of reference of these groups? Why are their reports often not made public in a timely way, and what is the consultation process to ensure that the voice of those they are trying to serve – and help – are heard? France’s foreign ministry sent along a senior official to address our conference, which was held at Cambodia House at Cite Internationale Universitaire on the outer edges of Paris. “We expect a lot from this meeting,” Christian Masset, the director general of global affairs and foreign development, told us. Masset, who helps to prepare for the summits, urged us to offer proposals on how to improve dialogue between civil society and leaders, which we will do. Our immediate plea was to grant civil society accreditation to the international media center at the summits, which is often hard to come by and depends on the whims of the host nation. Masset made no promises, but pledged that the French presidency wants to work closely with civil society. Aside from access, there is also pressure for G8/G20 leaders to honor previous pledges, such as one made in Italy in 2009 to spend $22 billion over three years to improve nutrition and create sustainable solutions to ease the suffering of an estimated 1 billion hungry worldwide. There also needs to be a clear action plan and transparent timelines. Another likely theme at this year’s meetings will be a crackdown on tax havens, which rob a country of important development funds. There will also be mobilization for a financial transaction fee, which would increase resources to deal with crises in developing countries. France is certainly pushing for this but other nations are not so enthusiastic. A common question was the role of the G8 and the G20 and how they overlap? Should the G8 be a thing of the past? Should the focus rather be on the G20 nations, which together account for about 85 percent of global output and some two-thirds of the world’s population? Where does the United Nations fit in? What about the IMF and the World Bank? A senior French official summed it up:  “This is a very complex galaxy.” For the record, the G8 is set to meet in Deauville on the northern coast of France from May 26-27 while the G20 leaders will hold their summit in the film festival town of Cannes in southern France from November 3-4. France has set out six priorities for the summits, including strengthening financial regulation, improving global governance and combating commodity price fluctuations. Read the official web page for the French presidency