G7 Summit: Honest John hankers for less magnificent 7

CARLO Azeglio Ciampi, the host of next year's G7 summit, told John Major he wants to hold the event on an island surrounded by crocodiles. Mr Major agreed that he, too, felt 'oppressed' by this year's presence of 11,000 journalists. All seven leaders were unable to tell each other how many people were in their own delegations, confessed they had not met the majority of them, and knew still less what they did. But by and large, Mr Major has met with little success in his proposals to scale down the annual meeting of the world's seven richest democracies.

When Mr Major prepared to make a lengthy intervention on this, his pet G7 project, at yesterday's closed session, the Japanese leader, Kiichi Miyazawa, tried to get the issue off the agenda by saying there was more important business to attend to. This year's hosts have no desire to scale down the one high-profile forum in which they occupy a place, pending their permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The Prime Minister none the less persevered to make his five points: by next year, the summit format should return to heads of state and government only; it should be reduced from three days to two (with the posssiblity of an added day for appearances by the President of Russia); there should be one annotated agenda rather than the multitude of position papers and communiques prepared up to 11 months in advance; the sherpas, sous- sherpas and sous-sous-sherpas whose job it is to prepare them should be reduced in number; and, in an optimistic effort to 'minimise the presence of the press', the summit should be held away from capitals.

The first point, that foreign and finance ministers should no longer attend, met with swift resistance from Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francois Mitterrand. Both now have coalition governments to consider, which must be represented to keep the peace. Mr Mitterrand, moreover, who at 76 feels no need to read the innumerable position papers which Mr Major stays up half the night to master, made it clear that he requires two ministers of whatever denomination by his side to keep abreast of the issues for him. The President of the Republic complained yesterday: 'All this terminology is the best way to drown the fish.'

The Germans also resisted the reduction to two days, presumably in the hope of an early inclusion of Russia on a permanent basis to make a G8 (which Britain opposes). Given that officials such as sherpas need to be kept employed, the next two suggestions also fell by the wayside. The last request, to hold the summit out of the capital, will in fact be met next year: Mr Ciampi has chosen Naples, which does have some islands near by but not many crocodiles. But then the Italians had always planned to stage the event outside Rome.

A G7 foreign minister told reporters: 'For people who lead busy lives, there may be some good in everybody meeting once a year to exchange views. But what the G7 is not is a directorate of the world to which people can bring their problems, President Yeltsin being the one exception.' Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, concurred: 'It must not be a political directorate of the world, a super-Security Council.'

Easier said than done. The next day, G7 leaders were busy responding to a petition from President Eduard Shevardnadze, who had written to them about the problems of Georgia. The Gaullist Mr Juppe seems to share Britain's sceptical view of the expectations raised by summits in general. He said of President Bill Clinton's call for an extra G7 meeting to discuss employment: 'To say what? To do what? It is not G7 leaders sitting around in a meeting that will resolve unemployment. We talked about it at the Copenhagen summit, and I haven't seen unemployment figures change since.' Funny that. At last year's G7, when Mr Juppe's Socialist predecessors asked Mr Major to discuss unemployment, it was the latter who responded: 'What for, if we can't do anything about it?' Unlike Mr Juppe yesterday, he did not say it in public. Yet with this week's 'breakthrough' on world trade, Mr Major was only too happy to discuss jobs, in public, till kingdom come.

For the record: when a Major aide was asked the size of his own delegation, he said: 'We have the smallest delegation by quite a large margin, but we've been trying to find out the exact size for three days. The last person we cut must have been the person in charge of counting the delegation.'

(Photograph omitted)

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