WILL the G8 summit meeting that begins today In Italy be the last of its kind? Italy's lacklustre preparations for the substance of the meeting, taken together with questions over Silvio Berlusconi's personal suitability as host and chairman of the meeting, have reinforced pre-existing doubts about the usefulness of these gatherings. In the past most host prime ministers have chosen an important international theme and prepared the ground thoroughly for a G8 debate that would lead to collective action. Tony Blair's concentration on climate change at the 2005 summit at Gleneagles was an example and there have been several others. Yet, somehow, in the midst of a very serious global economic crisis, Silvio Berlusconi has not been able to think of any topic worth pursuing. There are nods and winks to the effect that Spain would be a better G8 member than Italy; it has a higher per capita national income and earmarks a greater percentage of GDP on development aid - an area in which Italy has fallen disgracefully behind in payments. But Italy should probably not suffer for its prime minister's shortcomings and in any case changing one country for another may not be enough to revitalise the G8. There are others knocking at the door - Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, for instance - who believe that the G8 cannot really deal with global issues in their absence as full members of the group.


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