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Is G7 better without Russia?

Italian PM Matteo Renzi, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French President François Hollande, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel US President Barack Obama, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe Reuters/Carolyn Kaster/Pool

Leaders of the world's seven most industrialised nations - the US, the UK, France, Japan, Italy, Canada and Germany - meet on 26-27 May at the G7 summit in Ise-Shima. The slowdown in the global economy, terrorism, problems in the South China Sea, but also health issues and climate change, are on the agenda.

“The most delicate issues are the security issues, including the South China Sea, that are broadly: what do we do about China as a whole,” says John Kirton director of the G7 Research Group at the University of Toronto, speaking from the conference centre in Ise-Shima.

“Other issues include the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, human rights, the Chinese economy, its fragile financial system, its initiatives on climate change, problems of cyberspace and North Korea. The big question on China is if the G7 leaders stand united in their approach to China in its role as a host of the G20 summit coming up in Hangzhou China on 4-5 September.”

Better off without Russia?

The G7 is back to seven members. Russia belonged to the forum - then the G7+1 and later the G8 - from 1998 to 2014 but was suspended after its annexation of Crimea in March of that year.

“I think that one of the benefits of the G7 is you have like-minded countries who are committed to democracy and free markets international law and international norms,” said US president Barack Obama in a press briefing just after a first round of talks on Thursday.

“The G-7 is back big time,” says Kirton. “Without Russia, a Russia that is turning undemocratic, that is violating fundamental norms of the state system, aggression, annexation of its neighbours' territory, it is much easier to reach consensus amongst the seven committed countries with democratic policies for a long period of time, it is much easier to have that as a common bond then if you have Russia at the table.”

More than a talking shop

To many outsiders, G7, G8, G20 meetings give the impression of being no more than  talking shops. But analysts point out that it is important to forge consensus among the leaders, who can then go home and hammer them into national legislations.

“One of the biggest successes was achieved on the first G7 summit ever held in Japan in 1979,” says Kirton. “Leaders spontaneously, without preparation, invented the global governance on climate change. They put into effect the most ambitious and effective climate change control regime the world has ever seen.

“And the following five years the emissions of all OECD countries went down, down, down. So now they are picking up the task of implementing the inadequate Paris agreement. Some hope that they can do it again and not just implement the Paris agreements but improve them to actually control the urgentcompounding problem of climate change."

Competition from Brics

Apart from the G7 and G20 cycle there’s the Brics group, consisting of five members, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, more or less developing countries that are teaming up against the G7.

“Brics arose in 2009,” says Kirton. It has got less of a track record, it is a newer club. It doesn't govern as broad an agenda as the G-7 does. It really doesn't deal with the important economic issues, including a macroeconomic policy coordination, monetary policy and managing exchange rate control, and it doesn't deal with the whole range of issues, terrorism, climate change control, implementing sustainable development goals.”

Kirton says that the G7 does not have much to fear from the Brics in terms of global economic competition.

“We've now reached the point where most of the Brics are going bust. Only India is left to experience robust economic growth. China is slowing down a bit and Russia is declining very quickly, so is Brazil and South Africa,” he says.