In 40 days time, leaders at the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg will sign off on the twelfth G20 Leaders communique. Over the last two days of the 2017 Think20 Summit in Berlin, held under the moniker of ‘Global Solutions’, prominent experts and policy makers have taken the opportunity to consider ideas that might be addressed at the Leaders’ summit, to reflect on Germany’s presidential year, as well as cast their minds forward to Argentina’s upcoming G20 presidency and beyond.
With some participants feeling understandably apprehensive due to recent political upsets in the US and elsewhere, the discussions have been robust, and have generally demonstrated the diversity of perspectives that make dialogue processes and meetings such as the Think20 valuable.
T20 hands recommendations to Chancellery – G20 politics to determine their fate
The official highlight of the day was the handover of a summary of Think20 recommendations to Peter Altmaier, Head of the German Federal Chancellery and Federal Minister for Special Tasks. Mr Altmaier promised to study the document “carefully”, and to “prepare the summit as best as we can”.
However, continuing a central theme from day 1 of discussions, Mr Altmaier emphasised the difficulty of establishing consensus among G20 members on the finer details of just what a ‘coherent inclusive growth narrative’ ought to actually look like, let alone its broader agenda. While not directly pointing the finger at any G20 member, with memories of the G7 summit still prominent on the minds of participants, Mr Altmaier’s comment that “there is no single country able to provide leadership, no single person able to provide leadership”, signalled the growing concern within the Chancellery that their G20 slogan “shaping an interconnected world” may be impeded by certain G20 members apparent interests in withdrawing from major global agreements in favour of striking it out “on their own or alone”.
Having opened the day’s events with a reflection on yesterday’s discussions, Dirk Messner, Director of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Intitut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), simlarly emphasized that the T20’s role must be to promote “a global consensus on a world order which is inclusive and sustainable as possible”. Absent such consensus, tying together the different policy threads of challenges such as climate change, global economic malaise, and the risks (and opportunities) of digitalization, risks allowing the global governance system to become increasingly limp, uncoordinated and essentially unable to effectively cater to the needs of the citizens it was originally designed to serve.
Although speaking during the panel discussion about refugee and forced migration governance, Achim Steiner, incoming administrator of the UNDP (officially he has not started yet), offered a pointed diagnosis that is more broadly reflective of how global governance in general has reached its current ‘crossroads’. For Steiner, the “problem is not that the system is faulty by design, but that it is beginning to be undermined by practice, or lack of practice and adherence to it … this is true also for the G20, there needs to be an explicit commitment to honour what [has been agreed in the past]”. Moreover, the idea of settling for lowest common denominator outcomes, for Steiner, fails “to address the issues of our time”, such that failure to tackle the big issues at the G20 leaders meetings would negate “why they meet as leaders” at all – the G20 exists, “not because of the whole industry around the G20” but for the debates “inside the room”.
Recoupling the world – finding new paradigms for economics
Much of the final few sessions allowed participants to cast their minds forward and propose new ways of thinking not only about G20 objectives, but also the very concept of economic growth. George Akerlof, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001, proposed centring economic and social policies around the instinctive human ‘search for respect’. Robert Johnson, President of the Institute of New Economic Thinking, built on Akerlof’s comments by arguing for a new paradigm of economic thinking that restores broader social science concepts such as identities, norms, values, resistance, legitimacy back into the fold – economics that is simultaneously more complex but also more human. Only once this ‘restoration’ has occurred, argued Johnson, can our global economic and financial systems fulfil their social purpose: “you have to understand the institutions … to have values about these means, whether they are a corporation, a financial market, or a financial institution, you have to understand these are all means to the ends for society and we need to reinvigorate that conversation”.
On to Argentina
One of the final sessions of the day brought together a high-level panel featuring both the present German Sherpa, Lars-Hendrik Röller, and also the Argentinian Sherpa who is responsible for coordinating the G20 in 2017, Beatriz Nofal.
Noting that the preparations for the G20 Leaders summit were now in their final “nitty gritty” stages, Mr Röller echoed the earlier comments from Peter Altmaier that the prospects for the Hamburg Summit were still an open question, but that in many ways, this possibility of disagreement also highlighted why forums such as the G20 are so important – a forum where major global economies are able to elaborate on their points of disagreement, signal future policy, and walk away on cordial terms is preferable to no communication at all.
During the subsequent discussion, Ms Nofal reiterated her government’s support for the 2017 agenda, but noted that 2018 will see some slight adjustments in G20 priorities. In particular, Ms Nofal flagged a ‘concrete initiative involvement women entrepreneurship’, and also a desire on behalf of Argentina to host a G20 on behalf of ‘emerging economies’, and also a G20 that promoted a ‘Latin American voice’ to the world.
Both Sherpas lent their strong support and commitment to continue to work and engage with outreach forums such as the Think20. Noting this is something that “has been taken very seriously by the Chancellery” in 2017. Mr Röller concluded his speech by thanking the T20 for its efforts in 2017, encouraged T20 participants to work closely with the incoming Argentine presidency, and also thanked Ms Nofal and the Argentinian government for its full support of Germany’s 2017 agenda.