Nation states: back from the sidelines
G7 Summit

Nation states: back from the sidelines

The European Union and the G7 both mark in their own ways a changing world. While globalisation has caused the world’s economies to grow ever more intertwined and dependent on one another, transnational issues have grown in number and significance, sidelining the nation-state as the main decision-making body. Globalisation has hence put traditional nation-state–based governance on shaky ground, as countries’ abilities to address contemporary challenges have greatly diminished. Consequently, the need for governance bodies to provide guidelines and rules for the conduct of economic transactions has been high. It should therefore be no surprise that a plethora of bodies has been established at regional and global levels to address particular transnational challenges.

Diminished commitment
However, in recent years, both the EU and the G7 have been hit at the core of their ambitions. Both organisations are at the forefront of increased cooperation, yet they have lost members’ commitment at a time when dissatisfaction with globalisation is gaining momentum. Indeed, recent years have seen the rise of protest movements and populist parties taking an anti-European stance in several EU members. Such Eurosceptics have put forward questions related to the benefits and costs of being a member of the EU – an issue that was exemplified by the landmark decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU after the referendum in June 2016. Such discontent is mainly caused by not everybody benefiting equally from globalisation, and its gains have been shared within a small subset of the population. Public outcries of concern with globalisation were rather limited in the past, but they have now clearly reached the European ballot box.

Making globalisation work for all

Similar problems have been encountered by the G7. The first major blow came with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Russia’s subsequent suspension from the G8 provided a challenge to the G7 because it resulted in a more limited diversity in membership. As a group of industrialised states, internal pressures towards less globalisation are probably most acutely felt in this body, which at the same time is uniquely placed to address such discontent. However, now that one key member of the G7 – the United States – has a leader who stands for a more isolationist approach, the G7 needs to be led by other members.

The EU and its members are best placed to provide this leadership, given that Canada and Japan as individual members lack the ability and influence to guide the G7. Indeed, although the UK’s decision to leave the EU is problematic as the EU loses one of its members at the G7 forum, it might also lead to closer cooperation between the EU and its remaining G7 members of France, Germany and Italy, and provide an opportunity for the EU to engage more deeply with the other G7 members. The fact that the 2014 G7 summit that was originally to take place in Sochi was moved to Brussels has been interpreted by some as an indication that the EU is finally moving from the status of a G7 participant to that of a full member. Moreover, the continental G7 members so far have been able to overcome populist and isolationist tendencies, arguably demonstrating that the electorate in these countries has still not given up on globalisation. However, the latest developments in the formation of a Eurosceptic coalition government in Italy may challenge this.

Nonetheless, the EU can contribute to G7 policymaking that would eventually make globalisation work for all. It will therefore be key for the EU to take a leadership role and be a force for change at this year’s G7 summit. This summit, in fact, constitutes the perfect opportunity for the EU to do so, as the topics discussed (including gender equality and climate change) lie at the core of the EU’s activities and constitute the fundamental values that the EU has been keen to advocate in the world.