A G7 Post-Mortem: The good, the bad, and the legacy for Canada

As the dust settles after a turbulent G7 summit in Charlevoix, Lauren Dobson-Hughes takes stock of what was — and wasn’t — accomplished. 

By: /
June 14, 2018
G7familyphoto
Leaders pose for a family photo at the G7 summit in the Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The road to the 2018 G7 summit, hosted June 8 and 9 by Canada in Charlevoix, Quebec, was never expected to be easy. The Canadian government outlined its five themes late last year, and consulted extensively across Canada on its priorities. It put great store in its own openness, producing multiple social media clips across various platforms, and even managing to coax notoriously shy sherpas — the country leads for the summit — on camera.

By many accounts, the final negotiations at the summit itself were tense and “very candid,” and we know that minutes after the hard-won communiqué was published, United States President Donald Trump withdrew from it by tweet. 

While the summit was indeed overshadowed by Trump, let’s look at some other highs and lows.

Girls' education

Sadly missed by some in the political machinations was an announcement of $3.8 billion for the education of women and girls in conflict, crisis and fragile states. Canada itself gave $400 million (half of this is new money), with contributions from the European Union, UK, Japan, Germany and the World Bank. The US and France did not pledge (France made a significant commitment to education earlier in the year), but all countries signed the accompanying declaration.

This proposal was put together by civil society groups, and was a year in the making. It will ensure hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest and most marginalized girls will be able to access the transformative power of education. 

Gender equality

Canada promised to mainstream gender equality across the G7, and made it one of the five G7 themes. The Trudeau government took a number of significant steps, including establishing the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, which made a series of comprehensive and ambitious recommendations in the weeks before the summit. The civil society-led W7 also produced a solid set of recommendations that largely mirrored the council’s.

However, given the positions of a number of member states, and tight timelines, most of the recommendations from the two groups did not make it into the final communiqué. In particular, missing from the communiqué and all the joint declarations was any mention of so-called tough issues, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights. There was very little tangible progress inside the G7 itself on commitments to or accountability for gender equality. 

The most significant change was instead the mainstreaming of gender equality and its prominence in this G7. For the first time, ministers, prime ministers and presidents had to consider gender in every topic they discussed. They even had education sessions on the gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) framework that puts budgetary measures through a gender lens. And, also on a positive note, France has already expressed its desire to take up the cause in its 2019 G7 presidency.

Leveraging declarations

Anticipating a difficult 2018 G7 summit, many civil society groups and member states put their efforts into securing specific declarations through the ministerial meetings, most which ran in the lead up to this month’s summit. The ministerial meetings and the summit itself produced a significant number of declarations, including on adolescent girls, gender equality in humanitarian situations, sexual abuse, innovation, women, peace and security, and non-proliferation.

While some have dismissed these as mere rhetoric, in some ways, the entire G7 is rhetorical. As a body, one of its purposes is to find and articulate consensus. Policy makers and civil society can then build on these rhetorical stances or commitments, holding member states accountable for concrete deliverables to fulfill them. 

Final communiqué

For most G7 summits, the issues and language for the final communiqué are agreed before the start of the meeting, leaving only contained or topical issues for leaders to discuss. This year, it was anticipated beforehand that this would not be the case.

Canada was believed to prefer a joint communiqué, as is tradition, or a Chair’s Summary, which states only the position of the country that holds the presidency, if they could not secure US agreement. In the final days before the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel began to push for a G6+1 declaration. They felt that given the degree to which the US position differed from other countries’, any joint declaration would be so watered down as to be meaningless. They preferred not to paper over the cracks, since they were glaringly evident.

Given the difficult and last-minute nature of the final negotiations (the sherpas reportedly got only three hours sleep the night between the two summit days), and the fact that the US initially endorsed the language within the document, it was anticipated that the resulting communiqué would be disappointing. In fact, while far from good, it was not as bad as expected. In places, it was unambitious and weak, with noticeable omissions. It did however contain standard business-as-usual language, as well as mentions of gender equality. As expected, the section on climate change was G6+1, with a fairly long section given to explaining the US position on climate change and energy.

The 2018 legacy, and what’s next?

Canada placed very high expectations on what its G7 presidency could deliver, in the toughest of situations. It would be wise of France to set lower expectations, and a handful of concrete goals, for its own presidency, which it assumes in January. Canada also spent a significant amount of time consulting with groups across Canada, to the detriment of its own time to negotiate later on. It is understood that France has already started its own consultations, giving it a long runway for negotiations.

While many will see Canada’s G7 as marked by the political drama, a more enduring legacy will instead be found in the potential of the hundreds of thousands of girls who will now receive an education. In 20 years, perhaps they will even be negotiating their own political agreements.