As the Group of 20 (G20) leaders assemble in Hamburg for their 12th summit on July 7-8, 2017, many wonder whether G20 summitry is worth the time and trouble, especially amidst the high profile divisions between German chancellor Angela Merkel’s open, cooperative Europe and President Donald Trump’s protectionist United States. Even if at Hamburg G20 leaders manage to make clear commitments, many doubt that they will actually deliver them once they leave their sunny global summit peak and return to the dark, distracting valleys of domestic politics back home.
WHAT IS THE G20?
The G20 is an international group initially founded in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis as a forum for the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries and the European Union. In 2008, in the midst of the global financial crisis, the US President George W. Bush invited the leaders of the G20 members to coordinate actions in order to respond to the crisis giving the start to the actual G20 Leader’s Summit. Since 2010 the meeting is held annually and the host country change every year.
The following excerpt is a slightly revised English translation of the Executive Summary of an ISPI in-depth analysis for the Italian Parliament. The complete version of the report is available here (Italian).
Last year’s events further exacerbated and focused global attention on the same uncertainties already weighing on the past decade: from Brexit, and the ensuing uncertainty about the future of the UK-EU relations, to the ever-growing success of populist and nationalist movements across Europe; from the unnerving paralysis of the international community on the war in Syria to the new wave of terrorist attacks in Europe; from renewed political and economic crises in pivot countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and Turkey to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections, which may turn out to be a new and momentous source of uncertainty, also casting doubts on the remaining resilience of multilateral cooperation.
The 2017 ISPI report aims to analyze how such uncertainties are spreading from last year’s events, but also to try to fathom deeper trends. The first part of the Report will focus on the overall development of the international scenario, both from a political and an economic standpoint. The second part will shift the spotlight to Italy, where global uncertainties overlap with deep internal uncertainties and vulnerabilities.
The Italian G7 (26–27 May) takes place during momentous times for international politics. Many Heads of State and Government meeting in Taormina are new to the forum, and some of them hold radically different views. On top of that, France and the United Kingdom are in the midst of their national electoral campaigns, while Germany goes to the polls in September. Italy has approached its 2017 Presidency with realistic goals and by keeping a cool head.
Reaching some sort of global order has been a recurring temptation for the governments of the world’s great powers. It is the nature of things, and this temptation grew even more when the end of the Cold War brought some to regret the “certainties” that came with the clear conflict between East and West.
“Fragile - Handle with care”: this very well could be the imaginary bumper sticker for the topic of climate change when it arrives on the G7 table in Taormina. Usually, climate change issues do not lead to serious international frictions (even though they trigger harsh discussions during the annual climate talks under the UNFCCC umbrella), but this time is different. The suspense is high and the actors involved should use all diplomatic means available to bring about some results without losing face.
The G7 summit, being held today and tomorrow in the splendid setting of Taormina, Sicily, boasts particular significance amidst the growing fragility in global governance.
Global summits have rarely played such an important role as in 2017. In times of political volatility and economic uncertainty summits provide a forum for heads of state to exchange views on eye level contributing to a stabilization of expectations and potentially restoration of international consent. The US under President Trump questions a number of previously defined international commitments, in particular the stance on anti-protectionism and on the mitigation of dangerous climate change.