The situation is alarming and we are determined to put the issue of inequality in the focus of the G7’s 45th Summit. Other questions, such as climate change and its relation to the peace and security, are all interconected and require a multilateral answer.
Eight years on from the Deauville G8 Summit, it is France’s turn to again hold the Presidency of the Group in 2019. Ahead of this important event, we spoke with H.E. Mr. Philippe Meunier, Ambassador of France to Croatia.
How much France changed in the meantime, and what novelties the country brings to the G7’s 45th Summit?
Actually, it will be France’s seventh G7 presidency and summit. Since the beginning we have been trying to adapt this tool to overcome the global challenges of the time. The whole world has changed since 1975. Originally, the G7 was created to coordinate economic policies but it became soon obvious that it could also be helpful for issues such as peace and security, counter-terrorism, development, education, health, etc.
This year, the unifying thread of our presidency and the Biarritz summit will be the fight against inequalities. This is a huge challenge, already reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2015. The situation is alarming. The emergence of a billion people from extreme poverty during the last fifteen years cannot mask the sharp rise in inequalities. Half of global wealth is currently in the hands of 1% of the population. Since the 1980s, the incomes of the richest 1% have increased twice as much as those of the poorest 50%. Lasting injustices – unequal access to care, unequal access to schooling and gender inequality – have far from disappeared, including in the advanced economies.
France promised that, as of 1 January 2019, it will make genuine progress towards the moment when Article 1 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen becomes a reality. What does it mean in practice?
In his speech at the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2018, President Emmanuel Macron spoke eloquently about the inequalities that are ravaging our planet today. He also pledged to the General Assembly to report back on the results of the Biarritz G7 next September. I have no doubt that once again, G7 will deliver concrete answers consistent with the goals and priorities set by France for its G7 Presidency: fighting inequality of opportunity, promoting, in particular, gender equality, access to education and high-quality health services; reducing environmental inequality by protecting our planet through climate finance and a fair ecological transition, based on preserving biodiversity and the oceans; promoting more fair and equitable trade, tax and development policies; taking action for peace, against security threats and terrorism which weaken the foundations of our societies; and tapping into the opportunities created by digital technology and artificial intelligence in an ethical and human-oriented way.
The starting position is that inequality and insecurity are closely connected to the climate change. However, President Donald Trump’s disdain for action on climate change already challenged the possibility of progress in that respect. Are you still an optimist, and if yes, tell us where your hope rests?
France has put climate change among top priorities of its presidency. Some stakeholders are rejecting multilateralism as too expensive, acting as though global challenges such as climate change could be successfully tackled at national level. Engaging in power politics is useless when extreme climate events are spreading across all continents and while an increasing number of people suffer from climate change. Let’s make international cooperation more efficient instead of disputing climate warming.
To what extent is the climate change related to peace and security which is in the focus of G7?
These questions are interrelated inasmuch as, while climate disruption affects all countries, we also know that some are more affected than others. 700 million children live in the regions most exposed to its effects, and at risk to become victims of floods, drought, and rising waters, while having diminished resources to deal with that. We even know that some overcrowded coastal areas or some island countries will simply disappear because of the rising of the sea waters. In other words, climate change exacerbates geographical inequalities that are already extreme. This cannot be without consequences in terms of peace and security. We have to take action to prevent disasters that are already predictable and announced.
Leaders of the G7 will gather in Biarritz for their 45th summit in August 2019. Do you think that by the time the summit comes we will be in the midst of a new crisis, be it financial or related to migrants?
We live in a very unstable and unpredictable world, and I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future. But, joking aside, that is exactly what the G7 is about. Following the first oil crisis, the G7 was created following France’s initiative as a framework of informal dialogue between the leading economic powers. Over the years, the G7’s multilateral dimension has helped establish a collective framework for better regulation of globalization, with some valuable concrete results – the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – and many others.
Africa is one of the things that France will focus on during its presidency. The continent, according to some economists, has become a new epicentre of inequality and is suffering from a tidal wave of migration. How do you intend to tackle this issue which certainly resonates with many countries, Croatia included?
Africa is a G7 partner, at least since the 2003 Evian summit. G7 is not just a meeting between seven countries but rather an opportunity to work more broadly with everyone who shares our values and is willing to take action to move forward together. Africa is a breeding ground for development challenges, but also for opportunities to build future equality. It would make no sense to look at solutions for the future without including it and without recognizing it for what it now is – a stakeholder devoted to playing its full-fledged role in redefining the rules of globalization, and a stakeholder that is already drawing up its own solutions too – solutions that will enable the African countries to better harness their vast human and natural resources. President Macron has said it repeatedly and this was again the core message of his recent visit to Ethiopia and Kenya – our destinies are linked and we will succeed – or fail – together.
One of the first objectives in Biarritz will therefore be to establish a renewed partnership with Africa, by putting forward three priorities: the creation of sustainable employment, the support for entrepreneurship, especially women entrepreneurship, improving and increasing predictability of favourable investment conditions. Our goal is also to have a special initiative for the Sahel countries, consistent with the specific challenges they face.
While global problems are obviously serious, France is also very much involved in re-designing the EU. Is this too much for a country which is already dealing with many internal challenges?
The international order is under huge pressure. To counter this trend, like-minded states must double their efforts to promote multilateralism. Our European partners and the European institutions will play a key role in all this. The European Union takes part in all G7 discussions and is represented jointly by the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission. And we are looking forward to the first Croatian Presidency of the European Union Council in 2020.
8. In the time of digital revolution, many claim that we will face a new and even harsher divide between those who will be able to catch the train, so to speak, and those who will be left behind. However, on a bright side, one of the key features is equal access to education. What is your approach to that problem?
Digital technology is one of the points of application of the ambition to fight against inequalities that characterizes our G7 presidency. When it comes to the great digital transformation, it is also our duty to stand together to establish sound rules that will make it possible to reconcile the development of artificial intelligence with our ethical rules, and to guide the digital transformation of our societies. In particular, regarding the impact of digitalisation on the future of labour, it is exceptionally important to empower individuals to cope with transformations in the labour world. This will be discussed particularly at the “G7 Social” summit in June.