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G20 Analysis

Up Close at the Cannes Summit

Andrew F. Cooper, University of Waterloo and the Centre for International Governance Innovation
Cannes, November 5, 2011

What is most striking about the G20 Cannes Summit is the difference between an immediate up-close positive impression and the more negative assessments beyond the time line and confines of summit itself. Cannes regained the intensity of collective endeavour reminiscent of the Washington/London G20s, albeit for a more focused reason due to anxiety about the condition of Europe generally and Greece more specifically. Issues that had divided the G20 in Toronto and Seoul – currency valuations and global imbalances – were shunted aside as the entire membership concentrated on the need to deal with the European crisis. If the media was distracted by every new development in Greek politics, the G20 repositioned itself as a concentrated crisis committee in global affairs.

In terms of action the effectiveness with regard to the role of the G20 was underscored not only by nudging the Greek government of George Papandreou away from the ill-conceived idea of holding a national referendum on the bailout package but on the degree of discipline applied to G20 member Italy through the acceptance of “voluntary” oversight by Silvio Berlusconi over its austerity measures.

Yet if moving the G20 to a new stage of intrusiveness (with the publication of quarterly updates of Italy’s progress), the Cannes Summit has been declared a failure from a body of commentators largely because of a lack of numbers in the summit’s declaration concerning new monies injected into the International Monetary Fund and a lack of confidence that the disciplinary action would stick.

To a considerable extent this gap between positive and negative perspectives on the Cannes G20 is a reflection of the initial wave of success for the G20 going back to its elevation as a leaders’ summit in November 2008 in the wake of the collapse of the Lehman Brothers and the market meltdown. The subsequent rise of the G20 to the status of the premier forum in global governance has brought with it high stakes and risks. From Washington in 2008 through to Pittsburgh in 2009, the G20 was able to meet these expectations through both individual and collective stimulus packages. By Cannes in 2011, however, this approach has been eroded, if not completely exhausted.

In addition to the constraints on the G20 in its core mandate, the image of failure at Cannes was reinforced by the lack of progress in areas connected to a wider agenda. The G20 had an opportunity to push forward with some constructive initiatives on innovative financing for development, with the mobilization of a major report by Bill Gates commissioned for Cannes by French president and host Nicolas Sarkozy. This opportunity was missed as no agreement was reached on any of the major options most notably with regard to “contributions to globalized activities.” Nor was there any movement on the anti-corruption agenda, notwithstanding support for such action by elements of the business and civil society.

Operating therefore as a concert of states, the G20 demonstrated a coherence about the need for a firewall between European troubles and the rest of the world economy. Where it suffered was in translating the source of the problem into a viable set of solutions that built confidence in the operations of the G20, whether from attentive but nervous publics, media outlets or markets.

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This page was last updated November 09, 2011 .

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