How the mountain bore yet another mouse
14 July, 2017
The G20 summits have been convened for the past mere 10 years, with the first one held in 2008, shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers that triggered the ensuing global financial crisis. In the previous just over 10 years, the forum, launched in 1999, operated on the level of finance ministers and central bank governors. Envisioned as a meeting place for the leading industrialised and the largest emerging economies, by definition, G20 has a mission to give the latter group greater voice in the development of global economy.
So far so good, but what story does actual history tell us? In nearly 20 years of existence, G20 has failed to produce major news beyond the familiar commotions on the streets of whatever city the leaders of the world’s 20 wealthiest economies gather in. In the heart of the financial crisis, between 2009 and 2010, the G20 heads of state and government even met twice a year, without delivering notable contributions to the recovery process.
The meeting in Hamburg on 7-8 July largely followed the same script. Despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ambition to host a truly global forum with global goals and results (what is more global than the climate, after all), the summit was dominated by the circumstance of the first handshake between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin following months of speculations and doubts surrounding an alleged Russian interference in the US presidential elections last November. Not that anything came out of it, but the very fact that the media attention was singularly focused on this moment suggests that the forum's main goals have lost some credibility.
What did the Hamburg summit actually produce? The outcome of the meeting can fittingly be described with the wise Bulgarian proverb about the mountain that gave birth to a mouse [an expression for vastly underwhelming results]. When a forum of the countries making up 85% of the world’s GDP and two-thirds of its population ends in a bland declaration that “the fight against climate change will continue”, it quickly becomes obvious that it can be dismissed as the latest missed opportunity and a waste of time – for the leaders, for everyone who follow their actions and, most importantly, for the citizens.
And the problem goes deeper than the fact that, true to his election promises and political short-sightedness, Trump recently announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The problem is that, traditionally and despite official pledges to unity in the name of global goals, everyone is fending for themselves – the powerhouses are not shy to exert pressure, while the smaller members form interest groups to protect their priorities.
Where is the global unity here? It seems to be more form than substance, which goes to show that the purpose of such forums is not so much to achieve something but to make a show of willingness. And if this dynamic does not fundamentally change, the mountain is doomed to give birth to increasingly smaller mice.