The calendar of global summitry is at the same time static and flexible. The timing of some events – like the annual sessions of the United Nations General Assembly – are pretty much written in stone. Others can vary considerably and informal ‘G’-based summitry is particularly prone to erratic scheduling. In the case of the Group of Seven/Eight (G7/8), its very first summit was held in November in the Parisian château of Rambouillet but the more usual pattern, established over time, is to hold them anytime between May and July. In response to the Global Financial and Economic Crises of 2008, the Group of Twenty (G20) initially met twice a year – usually in the Spring or early Summer as well as Autumn – before then shifting to a pattern of meeting annually – either in September or November – as the crisis abated. In short, whatever the alphanumeric configuration, ‘G’ summitry is a movable feast.
Within the complexities of organising these summits, an interesting development has emerged that might impact significantly on the future of global summitry. Since 2009, a pattern has emerged of alternating between the G7/8 and G20. So, the G7/8 would take place earlier in the year with the G20 following later in the year. However, this pattern is about to be broken with two G20 summits (Buenos Aires in November/December 2018 and Osaka in June 2019) to be held before the G7 meets again in Biarritz in August 2019 after what was an eventful summit in Charlevoix in May 2018, which was also covered by the Global Leadership Initiative. We need to go back to the height of the crisis to find another incident of the G20 meeting twice (Washington in November 2008 and London in April 2009), bookended by G8 summits (Toyako in July 2008 and L’Aquila in July 2009).
At that time, the G7’s obituary was written and the G20 came to be regarded as the only show in town. However, the G20 never quite made the transition from an improvised crisis to the global steering committee, eclipsing the G7 in the process. Instead, the G7 stumbled on from one crisis to another – whether it be Russia’s suspended membership in 2014 or the disruption caused by Trump withdrawing from the joint communiqué at this year’s Charlevoix Summit – and often in search of an agenda.
The decade-old predictions of the G7’s demise now seem to be in the process of being realised. In this context, a double whammy of upcoming G20 summits could not have come at a better time for the more representative and legitimate mechanism of global governance to take its place as ‘the premier forum for international economic cooperation’. The fact that these two crucial upcoming summits will be hosted by first-timers also bodes well. Argentina and Japan will both be eager to ensure a lasting legacy, and the latter has considerable past experience of hosting successful summits. The troika system of bringing together past, present and future hosts of the G20 should ensure the consistency in approach required to make a success of these summits. While not wanting to pre-emptively dismiss French President Macron’s ability to breathe life into the G7 in Summer 2019, maybe now really is the G20’s time.
G20 Team: Martina Alvarez, Sol de Bernado, Matthew Bishop, Holly Barden, Holly Clarke, Hugo Dobson, Camila Dolabjian, Jamie Firby, Martina Gallego, Eleanor Harris, Daniela Ibañez, Eitan Kiperman, Victoria Lapadula, Marianne Quinn, Alex Reynolds, Sofía Sant, Vipran Srivastava, Hayley Stevenson and Tom Wymer – Global Leadership Initiative, University of Sheffield.