France in focus
G7 Summit

France in focus

Ahead of its Biarritz Summit, Hélène Emorine, director, Paris office, G7 Research Group, considers the central role France has played in championing international cooperation for a more inclusive G7

As France hosts this year’s G7 summit in Biarritz on the Basque coast, French president Emmanuel Macron has an ambitious vision to renew the format of the G7. At the United Nations in September 2018, Macron stressed that “the time when a club of rich countries could alone define the world’s balances is long gone”. With combating inequality as its overarching theme, France sees its G7 presidency as “an opportunity to adjust the format of the group” by involving democracies with regional influence, African partners and civil society to produce real solutions to tackle all forms of inequality.

In Biarritz, France has the opportunity to take the lead in reshaping the G7 to suit the realities of today’s international governance. This is not a new role for France. In fact, the G7 itself was created at the initiative of French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who convened the first leaders’ summit in November 1975 at the Château de Rambouillet. Both as host and participant, France has been a key G7 player in three major ways: promoting a new vision for international cooperation, making the group more inclusive and championing the natural environment.

A new vision for international cooperation

The 1970s ushered in an era of economic instability in the midst of Cold War tensions. The abrupt end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 combined with the 1973 oil crisis to produce recessions in most major western economies. In 1975, at the initiative of Giscard, the leaders of France, West Germany, the United States, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom met in a relaxed setting to respond.

Giscard structured the summit as small and informally as possible, without advisors or the press, to avoid what he saw as their constraining presence and allow for a free exchange of ideas among those with the power to implement them. It was intended as an impromptu, never-to-be-repeated meeting in contrast to other arenas of global governance, which were characterised by a high degree of formality and institutionalisation. Yet the leaders saw the summit as so valuable that it became an annual event, with Canada added in 1976 and the European Community, now the European Union, in 1977.

The 1975 Rambouillet Summit paved the way towards a new, and more informal, type of international cooperation that continues to operate more than 40 years later.

Making the G7 more inclusive

France has been a long-standing advocate for engaging with non-G7 members to make the G7 more inclusive and diverse.

As the Cold War tensions ended, at the 1989 Versailles Summit François Mitterrand invited the leaders of 10 African countries, five Latin American countries and three Asian countries, despite opposition from the United States and the United Kingdom. Similarly, at the 2003 Evian Summit, Jacques Chirac created an outreach meeting with leaders from 11 developing countries to join the G8 leaders (now that Russia was a member) not just as guests, but as participants. Evian was the first time that summit invitations included African countries. In 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy called for the G8 to be expanded to the G13 by adding China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa.

The 2019 Biarritz Summit will not be limited to the G7 leaders. Macron is emphasising working with major democracies and African countries, international organisations and civil society.

Championing environmental issues

While France has emphasised many topics ranging from tax avoidance to terrorism since 1975, the environment stands out in France’s contribution to the G7.

Indeed, at the conclusion of the Rambouillet Summit, the leaders collectively declared their common interest in developing alternative sources of energy. At the 1988 Toronto Summit, France insisted that environmental issues appear on the agenda, and lobbied that other G7 members, including the European Community, adhere to the Montreal Protocol. At the 2000 Okinawa Summit, France strongly advocated for the G7 to meet the Kyoto Protocol’s targets. At the 2003 Evian Summit, France prioritised action plans on water and the shrinking of the ozone layer. Since the successful negotiation of the Paris Agreement in 2015, France has consistently pushed for the G7 to reaffirm support for the agreement despite the US withdrawal.

In Biarritz, France will again champion the environment, with fighting environmental degradation as a key priority. France aims to ensure the Paris Agreement is fully adhered to and raise funds to implement an ecological transition without leaving anyone behind.

When France hosted the first summit in 1975, the world was facing economic turbulence. Today, more than ever, the world is facing economic, political, social and ecological turbulence. At Biarritz, France will have the opportunity to build on its contributions to the G7, channel the spirit of Rambouillet and drive further, ambitious international cooperation to address today’s challenges.