Global Policy Forum

The Dilemma of G8 Protest


By Jens Martens *

Global Policy Forum
*Opinion Forum
June 6, 2007


One winner of the G-8 summit is already certain, before the helicopters of heads of state and government have landed: it is the movement of globalisation critics in Germany. In advance of the summit it reached unprecedented public mobilisation and media exposure. The hopes of attac activists that the G-8 summit would be a kind of "Niehans' therapy" for the globalisation critics have been fulfilled.

The other side of the coin: by virtue of their massive protest actions, the civil society groups gave the heads of state and government media attention that their press offices and media consultants could never have reached alone. When referring to the G-8-even if critically-they give credence to the institutional standing of this exclusive club instead of delegitimising it. When they address volumes of demands such as "save the climate", "cancel the debts", "solve the problems of Africa" to the G-8, then they reinforce the illusions of omnipotence and unintentionally help style seven men and a women as "saviours of the universe", a role that they neither can nor should play.

When the G-8 is so pushed to the centre of the globalisation debate, it is no wonder that even the demands for "democratisation" of the global governance system fixate on the G-8 as institution. However, the opening of the G-8 for a handful of regional powers (esp. the "O-5"), repeatedly demanded, and photo opportunities with a few African heads of state do not make this "members only" club either more democratic or more representative. Meetings of the G-8 sherpas and the German chancellor with hand-picked civil society representatives may raise the standing of the NGOs involved and convey to the public a greater readiness for discussion and openness, however they distract from the structural deficits in representativeness and transparency of the G-8, more than overcoming these deficits.

Demanding that the G-8 be replaced by a new body where the South is assured equal representation and participation by civil society organisations is guaranteed is also superfluous. Such a body need not be invented: it is already there in the form of the ECOSOC, The UN Economic and Social Council which has been in existence for more than 60 years. But, power politics has prevented this council from performing its duties. That is because the G-8 are a minority among its 54 members. (Die Reform des ECOSOC: Eine unendliche Geschichte? >>> W&E-Hintergrund Nov 2007). Hence it is no wonder thy have never seriously attempted to vitalise the council and equip it with real authority. Only recently the governments in the UN General Assembly resolved to strengthen ECOSOC. Civil society organisations could remind governments of this commitment when the Council meets again. It convenes in Geneva just four weeks after the Heiligendamm summit. Activism there is tedious and neither spectacular nor impressive for the media-- but in the long-run perhaps more "sustainable" than a mere colourful flash in the pan on the perimeter of Heiligendamm.


About the Author: Jens Martens is co-publisher of W&E and director of Global Policy Forum Europe in Bonn.



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