No sooner is the G20 summit meeting over than the Rio summit starts. Then there will be another EU summit in the same month. Leaders of the large countries can now fly from summit to summit. They live in the strange atmosphere of high security and the need to draft a press release that they can all agree despite their obvious differences of opinion and the very different circumstances of their countries.
There are too many summits. The press can now always point out the hypocrisy of leaders lecturing everyone else to fly and drive less to “save the planet”, whilst being driven and flown more themselves to deliver the message. Many journalists specialise in writing about these events to highlight what the leaders eat, how much the hotel suites cost, how much the life of the host city is disrupted with a view to encouraging popular jealousy of the leaders’ lifestyles. None of this makes for happy publicity back home, particularly in an “austerity” loaded western world.
So why do they do it? Some leaders do appear to enjoy it, as it makes a break from the endless domestic political rows. It assists with their search for something new to say to entertain their local media. Some find comfort in mixing with others in similar or worse positions. Some think they can use these meetings to fashion an agenda that goes beyond their own country, with a view to claiming they are statesmen capable of influencing the world. Others see an opportunity to lay blame for their national problems on other countries that are unpopular at home.
The main reason any given leader does it, is because he or she has little ability individually to stop these meetings. If a leader recognised that a particular meeting was pointless or positively damaging, he or she could still be attacked at home for failure to turn up. The opposition might well condemn that leader for failing to represent their country, or failing to take the issue seriously that the world community was going to discuss. A bad summit is a poison pill the leader has to swallow, and just hope he can find some antidote to limit the damage.
The public usually thinks the leader will enjoy it. After all, they argue, they live a life of luxury at these events, as if they were going on the holiday of lifetime to an exotic location with all bills paid. It may get them out of doing more humdrum things at home. This can be unfair on the leader. The disruption of sleep, the need to network and work hard to try to avoid damage, the requirement to keep up with the day job back home at the same time as taking the summit seriously may make for anything but an enjoyable time. The good bedroom and food are provided and are necessary tools of the trade. Security and appearances would prevent the leader asking to check in at a bed and breakfast a mile or two away from the conference.
So who does like these conferences? Why are there so many of them? It is a combination of lobbyists and officials who provide much of the impulse for this endless search for world or regional government. Lobbyists love the opportunity to dominate the world press with their issue. A global conference can do that. They like the chance to travel themselves. They want to place their solutions in world Treaties and international law, so that individual governments are bound in. They see the opportunities for the ratchet – get some of what they want agreed at the first summit, more at the second and keep the series running.
Some officials like the idea of travel. They too see summits as reinforcing and highlighting their area of interest. They want more access to their senior politicians. Being at a summit with them for two or three days gives them that access. They may wish to bind their country in to the extra government and law the summit seeks, as they may distrust some of their politicans and parties and fear they will not want the general thrust of the policy without the international pressure and framework. Doing things with other countries gives officials more power and politicians less.
The losers of all this are the taxpayers, who foot the bills, and all those who want less government rather than more. Summits do not end up with fewer laws and less government. They are part of the process to expand government’s remit more and more. Democracy is also a big loser. Once something is embedded in a Treaty or international agreement, individual signatory governments can no longer dissent or do something different without the hassle of renouncing the Treaty. Treaty law is replacing democratic government in many areas of our lives.