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Do we really need the upcoming G20?

6 June 2012

4:00 PM

6 June 2012

4:00 PM

We’re all familiar with the eurozone boom-bust news cycle by now. First, there are reports of more European banks in trouble, then news of governments seeking bailouts, closely followed by speculation over the future of the euro. Then, as if to crown it all, there will be news that global political leaders and finance ministers are about to hop on planes to attend one G-Digit meeting or another. This time, as it happens, it’s the G20, in about a fortnight’s time, in Mexico.
 
With Spain in deep financial crisis, German banks downgraded by Moody’s, the US economy apparently stuck in a rut and the Chinese growth engine sputtering, are such international summits more, or less, necessary than ever? Going by past record, nothing much seems to be resolved at these meetings, except that countries become even more entrenched in their positions. At the G8 in mid-May — hosted at Camp David, no less — the only ‘news’ seemed to be the shocking revelation that Germany was holding a rather isolated stance on the EU crisis. Meanwhile the five-star hotels are booked, the diplomatic dinners hosted, and the fleets of limousines with their little flags sweep past. (Yes, I know that Britain has just spent millions on the Jubilee; but that didn’t pretend to be anything other than a celebration of nationhood and pageantry.)
 
Perhaps the times are now too critical for us to watch our leaders swing from G to G. It’s not that important international discussions don’t have to be held and agreements made, it’s that they’re likely to be made independent of any summit. David Cameron is flying to Berlin tomorrow for an urgent discussion with Angela Merkel — more is likely to issue from such a head-to-head than any longwinded multi-national boardroom gabfest. Indeed, the G20 nations themselves yesterday nimbly hooked up via teleconference to discuss the euro crisis; maybe huge physical get-togethers, aside from providing photo-ops, are superfluous.
 
Tellingly, Vladimir Putin last month said he was ‘too busy’ to attend the G8 hosted by Barack Obama. But the Russian president is making it clear that he has plenty of time for Hu Jintao. Today, Putin announced that Russia will tighten its military ties with China, in a response to the US’s plans to shift most of its warships to Asia-Pacific by 2020. Momentous things are happening all around us. Just not at talk-shops like the G20.


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