G8 highlights euro debt risk to world economy

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G8 leaders, meeting in France today, piled pressure on Greece to sort out its debt crisis, saying the debts of some European governments were weighing down a labouring world economy.

One European diplomatic source said the US delegation, led by President Barack Obama, had voiced concerns about a weaker euro, hit by the debt crisis, hurting US export efforts.

US officials were not immediately available to comment but the diplomat from an EU country said Washington had "asked for a serious debate about the euro's weakness against the dollar that could create problems for US exports".

European members of the G8 - Germany, France, Britain and Italy - along with the European Union officials would commit in a summit statement from the resort of Deauville to continue efforts to rein in the euro zone debt crisis, EU sources said.

However, the draft communique also called on the United States and Japan to make sure their own public finances were sustainable over the long term, another European diplomat said.

The concern over the global economy came at a time when the wealthy nations are trying to offer financial and other support to new democracies in North Africa created by the Arab Spring uprisings. It was a reminder of the West's finite resources.

The G8 leaders called on another Arab leader, Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to quit, hoping to avert civil war flaring up following a day of heavy bloodshed. They were later expected to endorse aid programmes for Tunisia and Egypt, which have overthrown autocratic rulers once supported by the West.

Briefing reporters at the summit in Deauville, Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary, Tetsuro Fukuyama, said leaders of the seven big Western industrial powers plus Russia agreed that Athens must do more to sort out its finances and work with the International Monetary Fund to solve its debt crisis.

The Greek government has called emergency talks with the opposition for tomorrow as repayment deadlines loom and European officials have warned that aid could be withheld for a country where millions face many years of austerity at best.

Japan's Fukuyama said: "Many leaders pointed out that Europe's debt problem, the price hikes of oil, food and commodities, and the overheating of emerging economies are among factors that put downwards pressure on the global economy.

"Especially on Greece's debt problem, many leaders expressed the view that it is important that Greece further works on its fiscal reform and it should work with the IMF on this issue."

On Yemen, summit host France said president Saleh must end his 33-year rule.

"We deplore the fighting that occurred overnight which was a direct result of the current political impasse, for which President Saleh has direct responsibility due to his refusal to sign the GCC transition agreement," a foreign ministry spokesman said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council.

For the United States, to whom Saleh was long an ally in its conflict with al-Qa'ida, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Paris: "We continue to support the departure of President Saleh who has consistently agreed that he would be stepping down from power and then consistently reneged on those agreements."

Prime Minister David Cameron said the summit would show Arabs on the street that the world stood behind them.

"I want a very simple and clear message to come out of this summit, and that is that the most powerful nations on earth have come together and are saying to those in the Middle East and North Africa who want greater democracy, greater freedom, greater civil rights, 'We are on your side'."

"We will help you build your democracy, we will help your economies ... we will help you in all the ways we can, because the alternative to a successful democracy is more of the poisonous extremism that has done so much damage in our world."

A host of other issues crowded in on a formal agenda whose slimness reflects the diminished role of the G8 in a world in which the developing economies, such as India and China, have taken a bigger part, through wider bodies like the Group of 20.

European members of the G8 - France, Germany, Britain and Italy - were expected to try to rally support from the United States, Russia, Canada and Japan for the EU candidate to run the International Monetary Fund in the face of discontent among the emerging economies, who want a bigger say at the IMF.

China raised the prospect of further wrangling over the choice of French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who quit when charged with attempted rape. Beijing urged "democratic consultation" on the IMF post, casting doubt on Paris's claim that Lagarde had China's backing.

Several G8 officials said the issue of the IMF leadership had not been raised in the first afternoon of discussions.

Russia, a post-Cold War addition to the G8 which often takes a contrary view to the seven Western powers, is opposed to the Nato bombing effort to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

There was no immediate sign, however, of significant new moves by Moscow to try to mediate between the warring parties.

The United States dismissed a new ceasefire offer from Gaddafi. One Western diplomat in Deauville said the Nato allies "smell blood in the water" and "want Gaddafi out".

The group will also condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on protesters, officials said.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan briefed the G8 on Tokyo's response to the nuclear crisis at Fukushima after the tsunami in March, part of a process of discussions aimed at improving the safety of nuclear power plants. Kan called for tighter global standards and better coordination among national regulators.

Among a range of matters discussed among the leaders before lunch, Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he wanted a rapid entry for Moscow into the World Trade Organisation. And Medvedev confirmed post-Soviet Russia's first big purchase of foreign arms - ordering four amphibious assault ships from a French-led consortium.

Obama and Sarkozy led tributes to the Serbian government for its arrest of Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic. The French president called it "courageous" said it would bring former pariah Belgrade a step closer to integration with the EU.

Internet tycoons, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google chairman Eric Schmidt, met the leaders to discuss proposals for balancing freedom on the web with protections for privacy and intellectual property.