Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Dynamic duos

As world leaders gather today before the official opening of the G20 summit this evening, their bilateral meetings reveal a lot about their priorities going into the gathering.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, having spent the morning with American President Barack Obama, is now meeting just about everyone. He has to, of course, since he is the host charged with forging agreement over the next two days, and whose reputation is most at stake should things go awry. Having traditionally positioned itself as a transatlantic 'bridge' between Europe and America, Britain must now pivot its purview to encompass the globe. Perhaps it is uniquely placed to do this, having occupied at one time or another part of the modern-day territories of almost all of the member states (only Mexico and Brazil avoided a sustained British presence on their soil). Suprisingly, this never gets a mention when the prospects for a British-brokered success are discussed. Mr Brown will achieve a consensus of rhetoric when it comes to eschewing protectionism and promising 'to do what is necessary' when it comes to fiscal stimulus, and a roadmap for financial regulation and IMF reform, and then we'll all await the next summit to see the details thrashed out.

Mr Obama meanwhile, between meeting his host and the resident head of state, has bilateral meetings with his Russian and Chinese counterparts. For America, then, this gathering is about managing relationships with increasingly assertive (potential) rivals. The G20 is set to be the mechanism through which the aspirations of these reemerging powers can be mediated, and Mr Obama has made it his priority to give them the attention and respect they feel is their due. This should work. While neither country will be central to the proposals discussed at the broader forum, their priorities are not the immediate outcomes of the discussion process but to cement their role within it.

Finally the leaders of continental Europe's two main powers are meeting each other, and holding a joint press conference to highlight their goals. The aim of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nikolas Sarkozy is one of advocacy, strengthening their negotiating position by first solidifying agreement between themselves. Their focus on the conference itself rather than the broader realignment of global power is perhaps a reflection of the fact that they are best placed to claim victory from the compromise that evetually will emerge in two days time, which seems certain to emphasise the need for much stricter financial regulation, long championed by both countries. But with Mr Brown and Mr Obama sounding a conciliatory note this morning, it would be pity if Mr Sarkozy and Ms Merkel tried to push their advantage too far.

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