G-20: Membership crisis may rock organization

In an interview with Der Spiegel, a German weekly magazine published in Hamburg, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre called the G-20 “one of the greatest setbacks since World War II.” Although Norway is the largest contributor to development programs in the World Bank and United Nations, it is not a member of the E.U. and thus not represented in the G-20 even indirectly. Norway, like the other 180 nations not among the G-20, has little or no voice within the group.

G20 leaders at Seoul summit

Støre characterized the G-20 as a “self-appointment group”, arguing that it undermines the legitimacy of organizations set up in the aftermath of World War II, like the IMF, World Bank and United Nations.

“The G-20 is a self-appointed group. Its composition is determined by the major countries and powers. It may be more representative than the G-7 or the G-8, in which only the richest countries are represented, but it is still arbitrary. We no longer live in the 19th century, a time when the major powers met and redrew the map of the world. No one needs a new Congress of Vienna,” said Støre.

Many UN members who are not G20 members have responded to the G20’s membership exclusivity by either refusing to acknowledge the G20’s legitimacy while others passively hoping that the G-20 should represent their interests – out of this group, Singapore emerged and has taken a leading role in organizing an informal “Global Governance Group” of 28 non-G20 countries, with the idea being that by working collectively they might channel their views into the G20 process more effectively. Singapore’s chairing of the Global Governance Group was cited as a rationale for inviting Singapore to the November 2010 G20 Summit in South Korea.

The G-20 comprises 19 members plus the European Union. All 19 member nations in the G-20 group are among the top 32 economies as measured in GDP at nominal prices in a list published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for 2008.

But not represented by membership in the G-20 are Switzerland (19),   Norway (25), Iran (28) and Venezuela (31) even though they rank higher than some members.

Spain (9), Netherlands (16), Poland (18), Belgium (20), Sweden (22), Austria (24), Greece (27) and Denmark (29) are included only as part of the EU, and not independently.

When the countries’ GDP is measured at purchasing power parity (PPP) rates, all 19 members were among the top 24 in the world in 2008, according to the IMF. Iran (17), and Thailand (23) are not G-20 members, while Spain (12), Netherlands (19) and Poland (20) are only included in the EU slot.

However, in a list of average GDP, calculated for the years since the group’s creation (1999–2008) at both nominal and PPP rates, only Spain, Netherlands, and Poland appear above any G-20 member in both lists simultaneously. Spain, being the 9th largest economy in the world and 5th in Europe in terms of nominal GDP, has requested access to the organization individually and has attended the last 3 summits with its own delegation.

Some countries that are not permanent members of the G20 are extended invitations to participate in the summits. The invitees are chosen by the host country. For the 2010 summits, for example, both Canada and South Korea invited Ethiopia (chair of the New Partnership for African Development -NEPAD), Malawi (chair of the African Union – AU), Vietnam (chair of ASEAN), and Spain. One of the world’s 10 largest economies, Spain has been invited to every summit. Canada also invited the Netherlands (world’s 16th largest economy) while Korea invited Singapore.

It may not be strange to wonder why several countries whose economies even surpass that of permanent G-20 members are excluded from gaining membership while others only receive invitations to participate. Questions also arise in the selective manner in which the invitations are extended. In Africa, only South Africa is a member; Ethiopia and Malawi received invitations to participate simply because they respectively chair NEPAD and the AU. Iran has never been invited to the summit even though its economy ranks higher than some of the current members of the organization.

The organization has however explained that in a forum such as the G-20, it is particularly important for the number of countries involved to be restricted and fixed to ensure the effectiveness and continuity of its activity.

The group of 20 has also stated that there are no formal criteria for G-20 membership and the composition of the group has remained unchanged since it was established. According to the organization, in view of its objectives it was deemed necessary that countries and regions of systemic significance for the international financial system be included, while aspects such as geographical balance and population representation also played a major part in forming the basis of the membership.

As an obvious response to the membership palaver, the United States President Barack Obama holds that “everybody wants the smallest possible group that includes them. So, if they’re the 21st largest nation in the world, they want the G-21, and think it’s highly unfair if they have been cut out.”

Critics have however proposed an alternative to the G-20 such as an Economic Security Council within the United Nations, where members should be elected by the General Assembly based on their importance in the world economy and the contribution they are willing to provide to world economic development, instead of arbitrarily rallying a handful of countries on grounds that they are the biggest economies in the world.

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