With Europe at a Crossroads, G-8 Returns to Spotlight

With Europe at a Crossroads, G-8 Returns to Spotlight

Advocates of the G-8, what few are left of them, might be forgiven for having a case of the “told ya so’s” this year. The importance many observers have attached to tomorrow’s gathering of G-8 leaders at Camp David in Maryland seems to vindicate those who defended the summit format against charges of irrelevance over the past few years. Certainly, the G-8 is no longer the control room of the global economy that it once was. The shift of the global economy’s dynamic center of gravity to Asia, unlocked by globalization and accentuated by the global financial crisis, has made that kind of Western monopoly untenable.

But with the emergence of the G-20 as the preferred and more inclusive forum for economic governance, the G-8 was unfairly and prematurely dismissed as a relic from a bygone era. Unfairly, because it continued to address issues such as global security initiatives that remain outside the G-20’s mandate; prematurely because the smaller grouping remains the most effective trans-Atlantic forum for economic issues.

That it was so quickly dismissed reflected not only the newfound importance of Asia, but also the diminished standing of the European Union among U.S. policymakers. The Obama administration tried to paint its initial lack of energy devoted to trans-Atlantic ties, highlighted by President Barack Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.-EU summit in May 2010, as a compliment: Europe was not a problem, and therefore it did not need immediate attention. But the downgrading of Europe as a foreign policy priority also reflected Washington’s exasperation with the EU’s awkward institutional transition under the Lisbon Treaty and a sense that Europe, while still an ally, was no longer willing or able to be a meaningful partner in the administration’s most pressing initiatives.

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