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When leaders go home

June 25, 1980



Now for the hard part. How much easier it would be if those Venice summiteers have traveling home to tidy dictatorships where what leaders say goes. But they are returning to -- democracies. No one will be waiting to rubber stamp the commitments they bring back with them. Their leadership will be tested not by how far they can impose these economic, energy, and foreign-aid commitments on their countries but by how far they can attain them through persuasion, conviction, and political skill. Their countries in turn will be tested by how far they respond to meeting these commitments or develop more effective alternatives to them through the democratic process.

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Even the democracies have seen times, as in the war years that gave impetus to big- power conferences, when heads of government had more untrammeled decisionmaking clout. Now the balance has tended to shift to legislative bodies , with public and private interest groups demonstrating increased influence, too. When problems as great as those addressed at the summit are the challenge, the highest responsibility is called for from every segment of the system.

If all the returning Venice leaders face such a situation to one degree or another, they each have specific challenges.

Consider Japan, whose elections have just been in the news. It had Carter representation at Venice, but it remains without a head of government after the sudden passing of Prime Minister Ohira earlier this month in the midst of an election campaign. Japanese voters have now given the ruling Liberal Democrats an overwhelming parliamentary triumph, opting for conservative continuity in a troubled times.

But the summit delegates go home to uncertainty over who the next prime minister will be. One irony is that they carry a summit declaration on prohibiting illicit payment to foreign government officials in international transactions -- while voters have strengthened the position of former Prime Minister Tanaka, himself indicted in a payments scandal, as a decisive influence in choosing a new leader.

Also on the domestic politics front: Chancellor Schmidt of West Germany and President Carter of the United States go back to election campaigns this year. President Giscard d'Estaing of France looks a little farther ahead to elections next year. Prime Minister Cossiga of Italy has been threatened with impeachment , but coalition government has been bolstered in regional elections and he is given credit for bringing his precarious country toward stability. Prime Minister Trudeau returns to Canada having already faced election and been triumphantly returned to power.

Unlike the other leaders, whose countries are still diplaying real economic growth, President Carter and Britain's Prime Minister Thatcher return to economies where minus rates are expected this year. They may be confroted by extra pressures against inflation. In all the previous economic summits, the thrust has been against unemployment and recession.

Prime Minister Thatcher has stuck to her anti-inflation guns, and it would be in her country's long-term interest to support her. President Carter suffers from the current impression of flip-flopping between hardening and softening anti-inflation measures. A US priority on inflation rather than recession has been strengthened by the formation of a Committee to Fight Inflation by a number of former top government economic officials. But if Mr. Carter is to carry the summit's inflation message, he faces flak within his own party as well as from the opposition.

And the US President will also have to hang though if he is to adhere to the summit's declaration against protectionsim amid cries from the auto industry, steel industry, and others being at least temporary insulation from imports. The summit declaration recognizes that the anit-inflationary effort to increase productivity means "avoiding or carefully limiting actions that shelter particular industries or sectors from the rigors of adjustment." How's that for inviting special-interest uproar?

In regard to the summit's endorsement of aid for developing nations, the Japanese can cite increased efforts along these lines after past criticism of insufficient concern by the free world's second biggest economy for the developing lands. President Carter knows the difficulties Congress is having in meeting even America's present commitments to regional lending banks, let alone the "increases in funding" for such banks supported by the summit.

As for energy, the stress on increased use of coal and nuclear energy as means of reducing the drain on oil will draw various reactions in various countries. France's nuclear path seems quite clear. Chancellor Schmidt is all for more nuclear, but he will be confronted by vigorous anti-nuke politicking. President Cater was given a hint of controversies to come when the Democratic platform committee stressed the orderly "retiring" of nuclear plants as alternative sources of energy arrive -- and no new licesing until the Kemeny Three Mile Island report is implemented -- whereas the summit stressed the present need for more nuclear.

The list of challenges could be lenghtened, including varying national view on the East- West security matters discussed even though this eas to be an economic summit. The point is that the democracies, for all the work they give their leaders, have the capacity to release the energies and imaginations of their people. And here is the potential for effective solutions of common problems.