G8 summit set to approve aid package for Tunisia and Egypt


WORLD LEADERS are expected to agree a major aid package to help the transition to democracy in north African states when they gather for a G8 summit in the French seaside town of Deauville today.

The two-day summit, which comes as the G8 forum is enjoying renewed relevance and authority, will be devoted to global issues including the world economy, the conflict in Libya, Iran’s nuclear programme and Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests. The selection of a new managing director for the International Monetary Fund is also expected to be discussed between the heads of state.

Leaders from the Group of Eight top industrialised states – the US, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Russia and Canada – are expected to approve a multibillion euro aid package for Tunisia and Egypt and discuss a common position on supporting other Arab peoples seeking democratic change.

The Egyptian and Tunisian prime ministers – who are seeking $25 billion and $12 billion respectively in aid — are attending the summit.

While the IMF succession is not on the Deauville agenda, the issue is dominating international politics, with Europe rallying around France’s Christine Lagarde as a candidate and emerging economic powers keen to push an alternative for a position held by a European since 1945.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, one of 10 African leaders who will attend the Deauville summit, are likely to defend the stance of emerging powers.

The G8 saw its relevance as a forum for discussion of global issues contested with the rise of the G20, which includes emerging economic states, as a parallel arena since 2008. Recent tensions among the 20 states – evident at a summit in Seoul last November – have given new focus to the smaller forum, however.

The G8 comprises major industrial democracies, as well as Russia, and its advocates see it as a more cohesive club of broadly shared values where agreement can more easily be reached. A French official noted that when President Nicolas Sarkozy discussed the future of the G8 with Mr Medvedev last year, the Russian president said he saw the group as “a family”. Both the G8 and G20 are under French presidency this year.

In Deauville, US president Barack Obama will meet individually with Mr Medvedev, Mr Sarkozy and Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan. A week after setting out his policy on the Middle East, Mr Obama will likely push his ideas for reforms in the aftermath of the “Arab spring”.

A major topic for discussion is the crisis in Libya, where three months of coalition air strikes have failed to dislodge Muammar Gadafy or force a breakthrough for rebels. Arab League chairman Amr Moussa and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon will both be in Deauville.

Russia, a critic of the Nato-led action in Libya, may push its own ceasefire plan after last week welcoming Gadafy envoys to Moscow for talks and receiving Libyan rebels on Monday. France has said it wants Russia to be part of a wider “Friends of Libya” group to come up with a political transition.

The Deauville agenda also includes nuclear safety, climate change, the internet and the Doha trade talks.