G7 Meeting in Munich: US pleas for streamlined summit

THE United States yesterday questioned whether the seven richest industrial democracies should continue their annual summits. At the conclusion of the World Economic Summit in Munich, senior US officials said George Bush had suggested that the G7 should consider skipping a summit, to provide time for reflection on the summit format which might help to make them more effective.

Washington's position coincided with a groundswell of opinion among ministers and diplomats, expressed privately, that the existing format has far outgrown its usefulness. And similar public misgivings were expressed by Brian Mulroney of Canada and John Major at the end of the summit yesterday.

The concluding communique disclosed that the group would meet in Japan next year. But a senior US Treasury official said Mr Bush brought up the future of G7 summits every time he attended them. 'He feels strongly about it; he's even suggested skipping a year. Privately, he's suggested that we should have done it when it was our turn.' The US last hosted a G7 summit two years ago.

Mr Mulroney, asked about the future of World Economic Summits, was more cynical. He said: 'Given the size of the economies, what we could do is we could have a Group of One. We could move Mr Bush around from year to year, put him in a room so he could cogitate for three days, and then come out and tell you what he thinks.'

The Canadian Prime Minister added: 'The size of the American economy is such that it dwarfs everybody else, including the Japanese, the Germans, the French and everybody. So you could always have a Group of One.'

The British view was more diplomatic, but no less critical. A senior British official said Mr Major felt that there were now too many international meetings, and not enough international discussion.

Throughout the summit, ministers bewailed the lack of spontaneity that has increasingly characterised the 18-year-old institution. They recalled the effectiveness of the early 'fireside chats' of world leaders at the first summits. Each year, the future summit host declares that his meeting will be the informal and effective one. Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany was no exception. 'Kohl said this year would be different,' said a senior European diplomat. 'Well it ain't that different.'

It is the preparationsthat appear to sabotage the occasions. These begin more than six months before the summit, unheard of in the context of regular international meetings.

'Consider that the draft communique for this summit was prepared by the sherpas (officials who prepare for the summit) in January,' a G7 diplomat said.

More and more, officials believe these preparatory talks should be scrapped. One initial improvement would be to reduce the number of 'sous-sherpas' - the representatives of foreign and finance ministers who accompany the leaders to the summits. But this will prove difficult. The frankest view here was that the summit gave a massive corps of bureaucrats a raison d'etre, which could not now be taken away. It is unlikely that the summits will be streamlined by next year. One official said: 'When Japan does things, it likes to do them big.'

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