The G-20 Summit in Hamburg has confirmed what I had diagnosed already earlier: The pretense of the G-20 to act as the major institution of global governance has shown to be greatly exaggerated. Already before the re-nationalization issues exhibited by the US election, the Brexit referendum, Polish and Hungarian behavior in the EU, and many other more recent manifestations, the G-20 could never legitimately speak „for the world“, since its composition was restricted to the 20 „most systemically relevant countries“. What about the small ones, the poor ones, the ones not large enough to be deemed (by whom??) systemically important? They have not conveyed a mandate to the G-20. True, 20 is better than 7 – but it is not enough, especially given the fact that all actions of the included 20 largest economies have spillover effects on many other countries: Who speaks for them? A number of analysts, myself included (see Bayer 2007 and 2017) have made suggestions to make the G-20 more representative, to give them legitimacy – but this has not happened.
But crying over spilt milk is of no use. The conduct of the Hamburg summit has shown that the major value of this meeting was to provide opportunity for some of these leaders to have bilateral meetings, or meetings in small groups – all outside, or in the fringes of the G-20 meeting itself. To provide such a venue is not without value – but it has nothing to do with the pretense of „global governance“, since in these meetings each country impresses on its „partner“ its own interests and negotiates a bilateral „deal“ – often to the detriment of the countries not present.
The official communiqué shows the paucity of joint results: a confirmation to further engage in trade and cross-border investment („free and fair“ – whatever that may mean!), a 19-member commitment to pursue the Paris Agenda, a commitment to „digitize“ all citizens, and a commitment to combat terrorism. In this light the horrendous damage inflicted on Hamburg‘s streets and police was even more out-of-order than this despicable nihilistic violence requires condemnation.
The „spin“ that these leaders give in their respective press conferences about their meetings (including the official one) has little to do with „truth“. Everybody attempts to show to the press and her citizens that they forcefully deposited the points close to the hearts of their voters. It is interesting to not that the US President did not hold a press conference, thus giving his first-met counterpart Russia the opportunity to declare that he (Putin) has convinced Trump that Russia had not interfered with the recent US election and that Trump had accepted this. Even Trump‘s following twitterisms did not deny that. It may well be that Trump can twitter tough statements when in his familiar Trump Tower surroundings, but that this self-declared dealmaker wilts like a daisy when facing clever and cunning counterparts in person.
It may be good news that Trump and Putin agreed on some kind of ceasefire in a small part of Syria. But given the amount of global problems, many of which Merkel had put on the G-20 Agenda, this is a poor outcome. The interests of the G-20 (and of many other countries not represented) are as diverse as ever. The spirit of cooperation with a view to jointly tackle the pressing global problems has vanished – if it ever existed. The withdrawal of the US as champion of the „free world“ has encouraged all countries to also primarily pursue their own interests: „My country first“ – and to hell (Hambug-related pun intended!) with everybody else. Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron may, one more reluctant than the other, dream of global cooperation. The Hamburg G-20 Summit has not been able to provide it. It will not come from any of the existing institutions, it will not come from the EU (in spite of its much-touted trade deal with Japan), it will not come from China. Citizens, wake up!