Yet Another G8 Farce

Few expect the G8 summit taking place in Heiligendamm, Germany from June 6-8 to yield positive results. The main question is how much damage Bush will do to US international standing during these three days.

At last year’s G8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Bush made headlines by groping German Chancellor Angela Merkl as she spoke with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

This year, demonstrators have filled the streets near Heiligendamm, a seaside resort in northern Germany, to protest the Bush administration’s policies as well as the annual G8 meeting (of government heads from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy Japan, Russia and the United States). Organizers estimated that 80,000 took part in pre-summit protests on Saturday and police used water cannons when 10,000 demonstrators infiltrated the security zone close to the meeting on Wednesday.

It’s a far cry from the August 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, where both Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair repositioned themselves from Iraq warmongers to anti-poverty activists by making positive noises about helping Africa.

As usual, musicians Bono and Bob Geldof (who organized the accompanying Live 8 concerts) heaped praise on both failed leaders at Gleneagles and denied the obvious connection between war and poverty. By the summit’s close, the G8 had unsurprisingly made little progress on global warming, thanks to resistance from Bush, but had pledged to write off the debts of 18 countries and double African aid to $50 billion.

Bono called the result “extremely meaningful” and Geldof proclaimed, “a great justice has been done … On aid, 10 out of 10; on debt, eight out of 10 … Mission accomplished frankly.”

As if. First, the G8’s supposed largesse wasn’t due to kick in until years later, leaving far too much leeway for countries to wiggle out of the commitment. And as journalist George Monbiot noted, Germany and Italy soon said that “budgetary constraints” might prevent them from honoring the funding commitments they’d just made; one week later, a leaked document showed that four International Monetary Fund directors were trying to overturn the G8 debt deal. Within days, the British cabinet minister in charge of financial matters stunningly admitted that the extra funding G8 leaders had promised for aid included “the numbers for debt relief” – as Monbiot put it, “The extra money they had promised for aid and the extra money they had promised for debt relief were in fact one and the same.”

So the whole 2005 summit and its accompanying hoopla ended up something of a farce, a celebrity-filled extravaganza to convince the public that positive action was being taken on Africa, when in fact the continent had once again been given the shaft.

At this year’s G8 summit in Heiligendamm, the war of words between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bush over a proposed US missile “defense” system in Eastern Europe is distracting attention from other critical topics. Once again, the US is blocking progress on global warming and has rejected a proposal to strengthen compliance with new aid promises for Africa. Along with Britain, the US is also fighting proposed regulation of speculative hedge funds.

At least Bono and Geldof have finally come out and criticized G8 leaders for “not keeping their promises” on aid to Africa. That’s something.

Heather Wokusch is the author of The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now, which went to #1 on Amazon's political activism charts in December 2007. Read other articles by Heather, or visit Heather's website.