The rationale for the Group of Eight, composed of leading industrialized nations, has been thinning for years. Not only has the group produced little of substance at its annual leaders’ summit, but its members are unable to deliver on whatever pledges are produced. Moreover, the political heft of the eight has diminished as other countries have developed and demanded commensurate influence in global political deliberations. Their demand for more input into key institutions has meant that most G8 meetings include almost twice as many participants, as other key nations join the deliberations. But the size of the group, the ad hoc nature of the agenda and the lack of any real follow-through means the meeting is increasingly derided as a photo op, devoid of real substance.

The gap between the group’s ambitions and its reality was on full display last week at the annual summit that convened in L’Aquila, Italy. The meeting backdrop may have been more revealing than intended: The summit host, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, decided to hold the get-together in a town devastated by an earthquake only weeks earlier to draw attention to the plight of the residents. So, world leaders occupied the remaining standing buildings while 25,000 people remained in the tents they call home. Mr. Berlusconi may have succeeded in getting the world’s media to display the hardships borne by the people of L’Aquila, but it is unlikely that the attention will make their lives any easier.

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