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Swiss press rue "missed opportunity" by G8

Balancing act: German chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of the 33rd G8 summit Keystone

The Swiss press believe the world's eight most powerful leaders have once again failed to make concrete progress on globally important issues.

This content was published on June 9, 2007 - 13:36

G8 leaders ended their summit on Friday after agreeing to set a nonbinding goal to cut greenhouse gases, warn Iran over its nuclear programme and give more money to fight diseases in Africa. But a deal on the future of Serbia's Kosovo province eluded them.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hosting G8 leaders and heads of five African states, pronounced the meeting a success but cracks showed in the united front leaders tried to present, with tension between an emboldened Russia and an alarmed West never far from the surface.

"Angela Merkel wanted to fight poverty, give globalisation a human face and stem climate change. She succeeded in none of these," said the Basler Zeitung.

Russian President Vladimir Putin refused French entreaties to accept the independence of Kosovo and told US President George W Bush to scrap plans to put anti-missile equipment in central Europe and use Russian facilities instead.

Putin, who is due to step down next year, ended the summit by warning foreigners not to meddle in Russia's elections after hearing concern from G8 leaders about the erosion of freedoms.

"Putin has only been strengthened by the West's mild reaction to his belligerence," said the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. "If Bush really wants to protect US and Western interests at the beginning of July [when Putin travels to the United States for two days of talks with Bush], he needs concrete results. The keywords are Kosovo and Iran."

The G8 aimed a warning at Iran, underlining support for more measures against Tehran if it does not halt its programme to enrich uranium, obey UN resolutions and return to talks. Efforts are under way in the UN Security Council to add a third round of sanctions.

"Noble goals"

G8 leaders said they would provide at least $60 billion (SFr74 billion) to fight Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, global diseases that have devastated African countries and their economies.

Leaders also reiterated an overall pledge made at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005 to raise annual aid levels by $50 billion by 2010, $25 billion of which is for Africa.

But the declaration set no specific timetable, saying the money would flow "over the coming years". Neither did it break down individual countries' contributions or spell out how much of the sum had been previously promised.

Aid groups and academics sharply criticised the move as underfunded, outdated and lacking anything new compared to the pledges of 2005.

The Basler Zeitung believed the G8 leaders arrived at this year's summit with "noble goals", but goals which they ultimately failed to reach.

"Taking the view that global warming and inequality is far from affecting everyone, those in power believe they can sidestep the issue by continuing to make promises and expressions of intent," it said.

"No one is prepared to make serious cutbacks, but they tirelessly demand that others do."

Missed opportunity

Merkel, who plans an official visit to Africa in October, defended the outcome, saying an important step forward had been taken.

"It cannot be the aim of every G8 summit to set new financial goals, no one was asking us for that," she said. "This is about implementation and what people get from the money."

However, the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger questioned Merkel's assessment.

"In the face of doubters and admonishers, the G8 countries have missed the opportunity to declare their renewed promises as a fundamental commitment to the principle of aid," it said.

The Tages-Anzeiger wanted to see aid that was better thought out, better focused on reform in Africa and with a better means of measuring results – "an aid that does not patronise but supports initiative and independence".

"Instead of this, they have contented themselves with noncommittal assurances without a fixed timetable. The G8 just wants to muddle on as before, thereby fuelling the suspicion that self-interest – political influence and access to raw materials – is more important to it than a 'salvaged' Africa."

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens with agencies

Key facts

Germany currently holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight (G8), an informal forum where eight countries representing 65% of the world's economy talk shop.
The countries are: Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States and Russia.
The European Commission is also represented at all meetings.
This year's summit, the 33rd, was held at Heiligendamm near Rostock, Germany, from June 6-8.
Climate change was high on the agenda, as well as shaping globalisation and helping Africa.
The 34th G8 summit will be held in Japan.

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