Last month I was sent by the BBC to help cover the G8 summit in Genoa. The whole event was marred by violence and the death of one protestor which overshadowed both the conference itself and the demonstrations by thousands of peaceful protestors.
This means that Jean Chretien, the Canadian prime minister, has a difficult job ahead of him. He has to host the next meeting of the G8 and make a success of it. He has started out by arranging to have the meeting in a remote, 2,400-square-mile park west of Calgary in the Canadian Rockies, not in a major city .
Chretien hopes the venue will foster a spirit of informality which isn’t a bad aim. One of the reasons these conferences have become the focus of so much protest is because they have become so large and so well attended by the world’s media.
The original G8 meeting was in a French chateau over a weekend and consisted of a few leaders, interpreters and bag carriers. Now delegations can be hundreds of people and thousands of press turn up to report every dot and comma of proceedings. It has all created an image of remote leaders in gilded cages who have little contact with the real world.
This isn’t entirely fair. The G8 leaders are all elected and much of what they discuss is very important. Also their agenda has been influenced by the peaceful protesters on, for instance, third world debt. But that makes Chretien ‘s task all the more difficult. He has to protect his guests, keep the size of the conference under control, allow peaceful protest and still get some work done.
To do this he does have some special skills to bring to the table. As the longest serving leader in the G8, he remembers how things used to be done. He is bilingual so can speak directly to three other leaders in their first language. But perhaps most importantly he comes from a family of 18 children. Being locked up in a remote hotel with only seven other people is probably quite relaxing for someone from that large a family.
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