Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Asia Centre
The G20 has not achieved that much since it helped stabilize the global economy after the 2007–2008 financial crash. Those who have exaggerated expectations for the G20 should remember that it brings together a disparate group of countries that represent around 85 percent of global GDP.
In recent years, the G20 has helped build support for free trade and the Paris Agreement on climate change. But now both are under threat from the United States, the most important country in the world. U.S. President Donald Trump’s behavior in the G7 format shows his disdain for long-standing allies committed to multilateral solutions. The G20 summit in Hamburg on July 7–8 will again highlight these divisions.
So is it time to scrap the G20? Arguably not, as it provides a unique and more democratic forum than the UN Security Council to discuss major global issues. And it is a useful environment for bilateral meetings. The EU and Japan, for example, are holding a summit on the eve of the G20 gathering. Meanwhile, the media will focus on the bilaterals between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and between the Chinese and French leaders, Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron.
There is life in the G20 yet—but if it were to arrive at a crossroads, it would not know which way to turn.
Shawn DonnanWorld trade editor at the Financial Times
The reality is that thanks to U.S. President Donald Trump and his still-evolving America First agenda, everything in the world of global economic governance is at a crossroads. Maybe the question ought to be: Can the G20 work without U.S. leadership?
The current withdrawal of U.S. leadership may be temporary, as former president Barack Obama told an audience in Indonesia recently. But even that temporary withdrawal is likely to do damage. We know because we’ve seen it before.
The world is still dealing with the fallout from the presidency of George W. Bush and his misadventure in Iraq. Too many people have forgotten that Obama’s sensible reaction to his predecessor, and the more measured approach to policy that resulted, engendered its own complaints of U.S. withdrawal.
My initial thought when Trump took office was that his arrival would accelerate a return to preeminence for the G7, or a variant of it. The G20 seemed too unwieldy—and earnest—for Trump’s attention span, and he would enjoy the exclusivity of the G7 more, I thought. I’m much more pessimistic now. Will Trump—and therefore the United States—have any interest in either a year from now?
Paul HaenleDirector of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
The turning point facing the G20 reflects unanswered questions about the future of the U.S. global leadership role in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election. Germany’s chairmanship of the G20 heads of government meeting on July 7–8 for the first time symbolizes the country’s emerging role as the leading advocate and defender of the Western liberal order and multilateral institutions. The United States under Trump is no longer seen as a reliable leader or partner in Europe.
At Germany’s side, unimaginable just five years ago, is China. Beijing and Berlin have long had strong ties, but now their cooperation is seen as having truly global significance. Most striking are the areas, like climate change and trade, in which they find themselves united against the Trump administration’s policy positions. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on July 4 before heading to Hamburg for the G20 is sure to attract greater attention than in years past. While China and Germany both previously attempted to keep a low profile on the world stage, they are now unquestionably viewed as global leaders, with both influence and responsibility.
Geoff KitneyWriter and commentator on Australian and international affairs
As a middle-ranked economic power, with the fourteenth-largest GDP in the world in 2016, Australia has been a vocal advocate of the importance of the G20. With an open economy and ambitious to punch above its weight in world affairs, Australia regards the G20 as a platform that no other global forum can match.
Australia was an early supporter of the G20 finance ministers’ and central bank governors’ meetings, first held in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis. Canberra then lobbied hard for the G20 to be upgraded to a leaders’ summit in 2008, as the major economic powers moved to take coordinated action to deal with the global financial crisis.
Now, with the United States turning its back on the rules-based international order, Australia sees a new crisis looming. As the world asks where leadership will come from now, Australia argues that it will have to come from the G20. Defending free trade, resisting protectionism, and reaffirming the WTO’s dispute-settlement role are seen by Australia as the key challenges facing the G20. With action to deal with climate change and global terrorism also among key global challenges, Australia’s view is that the case for the G20 is stronger than ever.
Joachim KoopsDean of Vesalius College Brussels and director of the Global Governance Institute
Global governance as we’ve known it since the early 1990s is at a crossroads, and so—inevitably—is the G20’s role in seeking to manage the different external shifts and internal rifts that are emerging.
Not only do major global changes require resolute answers, but among the G20 members, domestic developments have suddenly become significant contributing factors to a more unpredictable and volatile global disorder. Whether it’s America’s antiglobalist posturing, Britain’s Brexit woes, Italy’s economic pressures, Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s internal and regional instability, or heightened tensions in South Korea’s and Japan’s neighborhoods, the list of domestic challenges seems at least as long as the list of global issues requiring attention. At the same time, the combination of a reenergized France, a strengthened Germany, and an emboldened China will have a significant impact on the G20’s internal power dynamics.
However, it seems unlikely that the G20 will be able to advance strong multilateral solutions to fundamental long-term problems. With the looming UN budget and growing expectations of regional organizations, global governance as a whole requires urgent reinvention.
Patrick LeblondAssociate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa
No. Like all international forums, the G20 has to deal with more or less difficult member states at any given time and on any given issue. The United States is currently just one of those difficult members. As the scope of issues that the G20 deals with has widened since the 2007–2008 global financial crisis, the probability that its members can find consensus easily on a particular issue has decreased. It is certainly easier to reach agreement on financial regulation or economic stimulus issues than on development aid or climate change.
But then again, where would those more politically charged issues be discussed among the world’s most important players if not in the G20? The G20 now exists precisely to discuss and negotiate global governance issues, although it remains easier to focus on economic matters, which is why it was set up in the first place.
The G20 is at its best when it provides guidance and leadership to international organizations for them to develop the technical standards by which the global economy runs. In addition, the forum allows leaders of the world’s key states to discuss the most pressing issues of the day and, hopefully, win over recalcitrant members.
Marc PieriniVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
The July 7–8 G20 summit in Hamburg will primarily reflect the ebb and flow of world politics.
Three presidents will participate for the first time—Emmanuel Macron of France, Moon Jae-in of South Korea, and Donald Trump of the United States—while one—Michel Temer of Brazil—is embroiled in judicial proceedings. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has divergences with four participants: the United States (on Syria), Saudi Arabia (on Qatar), Germany (on political rallies in that country), and the EU (on future relations).
On substance, G20 summits have rarely achieved momentous agreements between their very different members. Hamburg will be no different but will remain a valued forum for concertation.
Of major interest will be the G20’s reaction to the staunch positions taken by Trump against the Paris climate accord and various free-trade agreements. Although some of these positions have somewhat mellowed, it remains to be seen how G20 members will coalesce against Trump in Hamburg, particularly on the issue of climate change.
Here, EU solidarity around German Chancellor Angela Merkel will matter: with Macron, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, European Council President Donald Tusk, and European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at her side, she might be able to promote a united pro-climate front.
Giulia TercovichGlobalization, Europe, and Multilateralism PhD School fellow at the University of Warwick and the Université libre de Bruxelles and analyst at the Global Governance Institute
The G20 is at a crossroads, as it has always been.
Since the beginning, the G20 has been criticized for being too big and too diverse to achieve substantive progress. Yet, the organization’s main purpose is to promote friendly relations among countries that represent some 85 percent of global GDP, discuss possible common positions on global challenges, and create diplomatic momentum for global agreements.
The 2014 G20 summit was considered a critical meeting as the Australian presidency proposed banning Russian President Vladimir Putin from the summit after Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. Yet, inclusion was preferred to exclusion, as the real success of these meetings is keeping leaders at the table.
The July 7–8 G20 gathering in Hamburg should be read in terms of presence and absence. After his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change and his realignment toward Russia, the G20 will give U.S. President Donald Trump, present for the first time, an opportunity to explain his positions to other global leaders. That is something that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will not do, as he will not participate while tensions with Qatar are rising. Yet overall, the G20 remains an opportunity for global leaders to meet and discuss pressing global challenges.
Dmitri TreninDirector of the Carnegie Moscow Center
The G20 is not an alliance, like NATO, or a club of like-minded nations, like the G7. And the G20 is not at a crossroads, it is a crossroads. This is its principal value.
Since the G20 emerged as the world’s top economic club amid the global financial crisis nine years ago, it has been the premier discussion group for global issues. It is inclusive enough; it is about the right size; and it enjoys the respect and gravitas to be taken seriously. This year, U.S. President Donald Trump’s decisions to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord have dealt a blow to the near-global consensus. Should Trump press further and impose the tariffs on China that he threatened on the campaign trail, this would destroy the WTO. U.S. economic unilateralism can be as damaging to the world order as the U.S. military unilateralism of former president George W. Bush.
It is not just Trump. A recent bill passed by the U.S. Senate to penalize international energy companies dealing with Russia has provoked sharp criticism in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, where governments and businesses believe the reason for more sanctions is the desire of U.S. LNG producers to ease out Russian pipeline gas from the European market. Meanwhile, French energy major Total has signed a gas agreement with Iran, another target of both the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration.
Jan WoutersJean Monnet chair in EU and global governance and director of the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven
To borrow the expression that former UN secretary general Kofi Annan used to describe the UN in 2003, one could say that the G20 is reaching a “fork in the road.” Either it can try to merit the epithet it endowed itself with—“the premier forum for international economic co-operation”—or it can become a toothless talking shop that produces little more than photo shoots of smiling but essentially un-like-minded members.
The deep disagreements between the new U.S. administration and most other G20 members on trade, climate, and migration make the July 7–8 Hamburg summit a high-risk undertaking. The animosity between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump bodes ill, but hopefully they will find common ground at their preparatory dinner.
The summit is also a test case for newfound unity among the European members minus the UK. If they and the EU prepare well—and that looks to be the case, judging from the successful wrapping up of EU-Japan free-trade negotiations—they may fill the leadership gap and keep the G20 going, if only for the time being.