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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Farewell to That G8

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Whenever the Group of Eight meets, there is discussion and often criticism of the numerous proposals and forecasts coming out of the proceedings. Then the whole thing is forgotten until next year. Who can remember a single significant decision made at these summits in the past? Did promises made about debt relief two years ago in Gleneagles really make any difference for Africa? Did the global energy situation change at all following last year's discussions in St. Petersburg?

The regularity of these meetings is actually one of their greatest drawbacks. The leader of every nation in the G8 is obligated to attend the annual summits, regardless of whether they really want or need to. As for the agenda, it is often just a way to make sure they can fill the time.

When Josef Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met in Tehran and Yalta, it was not to demonstrate their solidarity or to pose for photo ops; they had to meet to resolve important questions that could only be decided at the highest level. They had to discuss joint military strategy for Europe, and then divvy up the fruits of their victory and plan the shape of the post-war world. These meetings, like the ones that produced the peace treaties of Venice and Versailles, are remembered to this day. The meetings in Gleneagles and St. Petersburg, by contrast, remain small entries in chronologies of international events -- if they are listed at all. The 2001 summit in Genoa is remembered primarily for mass protests and the shooting of one activist, Carlo Giuliani. But who remembers the official agenda?

The G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, in early June might turn out to be significant -- not because the agenda will be more substantial, but because the G8 itself is changing.

As an informal club of world leaders, the G8 is built upon personal relationships, and strengthening these is more the point than addressing specific problems. At the beginning of the decade the G8 was a tight group of leaders enjoying close personal ties. But the members of that club are now gone or on their way out.

The first to go was German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, who was voted out of office in 2005. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi suffered the same fate a year later.

This time around there will be other former members of that club missing.

Former French President Jacques Chirac won't be back, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will only be passing through on his way out of politics. President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush both have to leave office next year, so there's little in it for them, as outgoing leaders, in working to establish strong personal relations any of the new faces.

Likewise for new leaders like French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, there is little point in trying to forge friendships with Bush and Putin. Brown and Sarkozy are more concerned with who the next leaders will be in Washington and Moscow. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, meanwhile, is a professional bureaucrat and doesn't tend toward the personal touch in his political dealings. At the earliest, continuity in the G8 will only be re-established in 2008 or 2009.

But this year's summit may prove to be critical for a different reason. After the death of Giuliani in Genoa in 1991, protesters have gathered in smaller numbers and been less aggressiveness. The leaders of anti-globalization organizations tried to tone down their tactics, especially after Sept. 11, 2001. But the mood and the composition of radical youth movements is shifting again, and the Heiligendamm summit could well witness see record numbers of demonstrators.

That would provide a fitting backdrop for the next summit, which, much like those of recent years, will soon pass into history.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.