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Pre-G20 hype matters less than post-G20 process

Posted on 29 March 2009 | 1:03pm

Lots of talk of expectation setting pre the G20
Summit.

It is hard enough if you have near total control
over an event – as with a single speech by a single politician, when other
people’s hopes and expectations for it can impact for good or bad. It is even
harder when it is a major diplomatic event to discuss a global economic crisis
attended by leaders of the world’s twenty major economies, a media circus from
all their countries and thousands of protesters ready to say that whatever is
agreed is not good enough.

There will be plenty of focus on the protests,
security, size of entourages, costs of the event, what the leaders eat and
drink, who sits next to whom, and anything and everything that can be gleaned
about Barack Obama and his interaction with the other leaders, particularly the
Russians, the Chinese and the Queen.

There will also be microfocus, minute by minute,
on any and all of the signals coming from inside the meeting about the nature
of the discussions and what that says about the possible conclusion.

Very little of the hype or the ballyhoo matters
compared with the fact of the meeting – for which Gordon Brown deserves credit
– the discussions before, during and after, and the decisions reached, not
least about the general direction of travel.

The strategic direction and specific decisions
agreed at the last such meeting in Washington, as the economic crisis really
bit, led to changes which, according to the IMF, have contributed to growth and
jobs. Two million jobs. 

An odd thing to say perhaps at a time economies
are shrinking and so many people are losing their jobs around the world. And
‘things could have been even worse if world leaders had not shoved the economy
in the stimulus-led direction they did’ is not the greatest political rallying
cry known to man But it is true.

I heard Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – a
man who does what we call ‘good tone,’ and whose ratings at home are not far
from Obama territory – making the point that because leaders cannot achieve
everything that does not mean they should not gather to try to do something.
That is spot on.

The problems of the world economy, let alone the
challenge of climate change which will also be on the agenda, are not going to
be resolved by one week in London.

But however loud the protests, and however many
TV viewers around the world hear reporters telling them in a few days that the
outcome is far from perfect, or a fudge, or full of compromises to take into
account specific problems for specific leaders, the chances are it will make a
difference, and that it will be a difference for the better.

It is a political process, not a promise of
perfection.

  • Obnoxio The Clown

    I heard Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – a man who does what we call ‘good tone,’ and whose ratings at home are not far from Obama territory – making the point that because leaders cannot achieve everything that does not mean they should not gather to try to do something. That is spot on.

    The problem is that the Prime Mentalist is trying to achieve everything.

    Except that the bastard isn’t paying for it, we are.

  • Maggie Brandon

    Interesting point re Kevin Rudd. I am an Aussie living in Britain, and we have a reputation I guess of being pretty brash and in your face. Rudd is very calm and measured by Australian political standards and maybe that helps the tone. He tends to say things as they are and not get too excited

  • Alan Frame

    THe question is whether the hype comes from media or politicians or a bit of both. The key worry for me is whether ultimately the growth ambitions of the developing economies – particularly China – will say two fingers to climate change

  • Alina Palimaru

    I agree with AC’s views on media-induced frenzy and the excessive focus on meaningless details, all of which avoids the substance of discussions. (As a side-note to all those who send me hate-mail accusing me of being a sycophant…I am not, I genuinely agree with AC, ok? So stop doing and saying that!!).

    Yes, the expectations are high, and I have some qualms about the willingness of certain countries to agree to a framework that so far has been advanced by Western powers. I also suspect some ego-clashes among the Europeans, because these countries have historically preferred certain economic principles over others, and may not want to change course. They have confidence in their models’ strength to withstand even something of the magnitude of this crisis. But it is worth a try.

    Obama’s participation will be bittersweet, in my view. On the one hand, he is wildly popular in Europe. On the other, there is deep resentment towards the U.S., as many perceive it is where the crisis originated (although, truth be told, Obama inherited the catastrophe of the previous president). I am curious to see how he asserts himself under the circumstances.

    AC, I think you forgot to throw something in the mix: the super-financiers a la George Soros, who shuttle between TVs stations giving advice on how to save the world. A Latin anecdote to which I referred in a previous post (about wars and heroes) is very relevant here is well. Although, he did make a good point when he suggested that the success of the summit should not be measured by the ability of world leaders to bring the world back to the economic order of the last decades. Good point! That is the order that brought about this situation, it was an “aberration” as he put it, and it is high time we innovated and created something for the economic and financial needs of the 21st century.

  • paul robinson

    How big will G20 get, not so long ago it was G67&8.Peoples hopes on one meeting in London solving everything is very strong.If that was the case in this day in age with video conferencing internet etc why cannot they chat away to their hearts content and save a fortune not to mention ironic saving the planet with everybody flying and driving everywere

  • Alina Palimaru

    Paul, I am not sure that a one-time meeting of 20 world leaders and their entourage will precipitate an environmental disaster. Plus, this is a moment for history. I do agree that video-conferencing is a smart option, but it would be more effective if corporate meetings that occur on a weekly or monthly basis and have execs flown in from around the world shifted to this.

    As for the size of the Group, of course the more leaders at the table the more difficult it is for consensus or decision-making, but this is no longer a uni- or two-dimensional world (with the U.S. and Europe at the center). Countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia must be engaged to ensure equity and fairness in the global economic order. This will not happen overnight, but still…worth a shot. Meaningful change is gradual.

  • Charlie

    Alina.
    You will find that the views of a great many people were summed up by Dan Hannan in his speech at Strasbourg last week.

    Gordon Brown and Labour have, for obvious reasons, forfeited the right to be taken seriously.

    Whilst Political Process does indeed have to be set in motion, no Britsh led initiative will be treated with respect until after a General Election.

  • kevin Hollingsworth

    Political willpower cannot put more oil in the ground. This commodity linked to the dollar is the driving function of the crisis. The USA is a vampire state and restraining/distorting global economic activity. The collapse of the dollar will happen and it won’t be long. The G20 are going to follow some path but whichever is chosen it will be unsustainable with the USA bleeding the resources of the globe dry. I predict a week of chaos and a new world beyond the anglosphere.

  • Tony

    I think one of the most interesting changes we’ve since since the beginning of the financial crisis is the speed at which the G20 has shifted to become the primary global political-economic forum. I think that it effectively represents a recognition that world economic order has become much more multi-polar since the G8 was founded, and that means expanding the tent to keep all the significant players inside.

    I think accomodating China will be the critical element to a successful outcome to the London meeting, and I think that Rudd’s push in this direction is a good idea, even if it does mean he gets some stick at home.

    Also agree with AC and Alina that the bulk of the coverage will probably focus on the circus elements, rather than the substance. I’m hoping for (rather than expecting) some specific steps on keeping trade barriers from popping up, but I think I’m going to have to settle for a statement of principle in that regard.

    At the risk of sounding like a suck-up, I also think AC’s last comment is spot on. We should see a compromise agreement as a sign of success on everybody’s part, rather than pinning individual leaders for weakness because they traded something away. The point of a trade, after all, is that both sides get something in return.

  • Steve

    I don’t dispute much of what you say, you obviously know how these things work.

    However it is a tad ironic to read a notorious spin-doctor fingering the media for perpetuating public distrust of politicans.

    Now that the banks are shedding cheesed off employees there a numerous views from industry insiders all over the web. Now that they have their begging bowls extended to the taxpayer they are haemoraging their grotty little secrets too.

    The more that people become more informed about how the economic cycle and financial services industry works, the more they feel talked down to and patronised. It’s as simple as that.

    The media monopolies have been broken now, controlling information (which I have it on good authority spin-doctors believe politics is all about) is now impossible in a free society.

  • Jane A

    My wish for this week’s events is that the hope outdistances the hype, that people lower their expectations a little and await the outcomes with an open mind.

    Whilst I defend to the end people’s right to protest, I also hope that doesn’t dominate the media coverage to the exclusion of all else. Maybe if any of the world leaders bring their partners, the papers could resist getting all obsessy about fashion, and whose wardrobe carries the day.

    I also recognise not much of this is likely, but optimism is free.