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Legacy Press Begins to Take Note: G-20 Summits Don’t Matter

It’s that time of year again—time for yet another of the  profoundly unimportant and overhyped summit meetings. Once again, the G-20 is meeting for a vapid talkfest, and once again the legacy press, as always determined to utter platitudes to power, is trying to whip up some interest in the recurring photo-ops when heads of state get together in order to look busy as their aides see how many empty agreements they can pack into a single communique.

Fortunately, this time even the press is beginning to realize what serious observers of the world scene have known for some time: these meetings are for show, not for action. Some countries are flattered because they get invitations; all leaders like having their pictures taken with other leaders. A certain amount of useful ‘getting to know you’ takes place, usually outside of the formal meetings, and some leaders will sneak off for quiet bilaterals or other conferences where actual agreements are made. Presidents Obama and Putin, for example, should have an interesting little chat.

But these summits are not, as some hope and others think, a significant element of world governance. The G-20 is not a policy making or even a policy-coordinating body. The fate of the world economy will be discussed but not decided at the summit. The euro will neither be saved nor lost, and even the press is beginning to get it. From the LA Times:

“Nothing! The G-20 cannot take any real decisions” on the Eurozone problem, said Mario Baldassarri, chairman of Italy‘s Senate Finance Committee, in a telephone interview. “They cannot take a decision that has to be made in Europe.” […]

“If at the end of the G-20, you have just words about renewed commitments, I think it’s going to be difficult to recover any kind of credibility,” said Gordon Smith, a former Canadian deputy Cabinet minister and government advisor on the Group of 8 and other multinational forums. Smith said the G-20’s struggles stemmed partly from its structure.

“It’s too big, there are too many people in the room,” he said. “Leaders are now reading statements prepared by officials. They wander out of the room and come back.”

Indeed. The G-7 was a talking shop, the G-8 was a talking shop, and the G-20 is even more of a talking shop. It looks as if the legacy press is beginning to get it.

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  • Randy

    Dr. M,

    I, for one, am anxiously awaiting your evisceration of the upcoming Rio sustainability summit.

  • Cunctator

    I have long thought that the G-8 and G-20 are suffering from “Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome. It will only take one leader to say that they are worthless gatherings and that would be it. I thought Putin might be doing something along those lines this year but, alas, I was far too optimistic.

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