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The G7 Summit: Hiding the dust under the carpet: Annika Savill in Munich bewails the increasing hollowness of stage-managed summits and the birth of another piece of diplomatic jargon

'THE most intelligent thing anyone can say about these summits,' said a senior European diplomat yesterday, 'is that they have no meaning whatsoever. Summits should be abolished.'

His was one of a growing number of private admissions that forums such as the G7 have become too unwieldy to produce any result other than declarations that have started sounding increasingly alike year after year. Even those declarations are not the result of seven world leaders sitting around a table in a Bavarian castle, but are cooked up weeks in advance by political directors and sherpas and sous-sherpas.

You might think, then, that the real substance is discussed in private bilaterals on the margins of this or any other summit. Presidents Bush and Mitterrand held such a bilateral over dinner on Sunday. It was their first meeting since January and since relations between their countries have plumbed increasingly abysmal depths on European defence.

The purpose of the meeting was to make clear whether Mr Mitterrand's pet project, the Franco-German Corps, which he hopes will become a European Corps, was in competition with Nato and intended to exclude America from the defence of Europe.

After the dinner, Mr Mitterrand's spokesman assembled reporters and announced that he would read out a prepared statement, and that he would not answer questions.

Two officials then arrived to brief reporters off the record. The talks had been, as always when the two leaders met, 'extraordinarily clear, precise, direct and frank'. The two had known each other since June 1981 after all. It had always struck the officials how the two Presidents were able to say to one another, 'This is my problem', or 'What did you have at the back of your mind when you did this?'

Out of Sunday's frank and clear exchange had emerged that 'no problem on European security is insurmountable while things are explained by both parties'. There were 'bad interpretations' of the Corps, such that its detractors accuse it of being incompatible with Nato. Where was the solution to be found, then? 'The solution was to be found,' said one of the officials, 'in the theme of complementarity.' From then on the briefing turned into one long eulogy of this word which most people have never heard, let alone would be able to pronounce easily. It means simply that things can be complementary.

If this rings a bell, it is because it is remarkably like the way in which Britain has started to extol another word ending in '-arity' to conceal differences with its partners during its presidency of the EC.

Complementarity, however, unlike subsidiarity, does earn a mention in British dictionaries. Chambers has the following: 'A concept first adopted in microphysics which accepts the existence of superficially inconsistent views of an object or phenomenon.' The term has recently cropped up in various Nato communiques, notably after the alliance's Copenhagen summit in May 1991.

'Like subsidiarity it's a horrible word,' said a European analyst. 'Like subsidiarity, it is one of those words simply intended to sweep differences under the carpet.' If this was the outcome of 'extraordinarily clear and precise' talks on the margins of the summit, perhaps these should be dispensed with altogether too. 'All that's been achieved is an agreement not to row in public.' And yet another horrible and meaningless word to keep track of.