“After You Alphonse” – The G20 and Building a “Firewall” Against Eurozone Contagion




G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers have wrapped up their meeting in Mexico.

So what’s the result?

Well the battle has not yet been won to create a significant enough “firewall” to calm the markets and assure them that contagion will not spread beyond Europe.

But it appears to be coming.

The heart of the issue is Germany’s reluctance to add to the bailout fund that had been created – Europe had first built a temporary fund – the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) and then subsequently created a permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM).  That combination would total about 750 billion euros.  But Germany is not yet ready to do that.  And the G20 – or at least many of the G20 countries – are not prepared to augment the IMF support standing around $358 billion by some $500 to $600 billion – until Europe makes a greater contribution.

The G20 countries have pressed Europe (see the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers Communique) – that means principally Germany in this case –  to increase the European contribution.  It is still unclear whether Germany is prepared to commit – it would appear not to be by next week at the European Summit set for March 1 – 2nd.

Where do the G20 countries stand – and why?  Most critical in this discussion is Germany.  And Germany has resisted – and continues to resist though apparently less vociferously the enlargement of the Eurozone’s bailout fund.

Germany appears, in part, to be playing for time.  The German Government faces a crucial vote in its legislature on Monday – a vote to accept a second rescue package. – As a bit of an aside  the Netherlands and Finland also face legislative approval in the coming week.  It also seems that the German government is playing for time to see if the Greek government will be successful in swapping Greek debt held by banks and other investors that propose a significant reduction in the face value of the debt, or drawn out maturity and/or rate reductions – or all three.  And the Merkel government is all too aware that German public opinion is strongly opposed to to further bailout actions for Greece.  In fact in a poll released today,  Sunday, by Bild am Sonntag (quoted in Reuters) showed that 62 percent of Germans oppose further aid for Greece.  Thus, the German government for the moment continues to insist that an enlarged firewall may cause governments to ease up on their fiscal austerity measures and additional economic reform. The strongest views from the German government continues to argue that the ESM is sufficient as it is.  In the meantime, however, Greece, Ireland and Portugal are locked out of debt markets.

Most of the G20 countries – developed and large emerging markets alike – have urged Europe to take further steps to reduce the risk of contagion.  A number of developed countries such as the UK and Japan are prepared to raise further IMF support along with a number of developing and large emerging market countries, most insist that will not act without further actions by Europe.  And the United States has both urged greater European actions but has also made clear that it will not contribute in any instance to the enlargement of the IMF package.

So it is unclear today whether Europe will enlarge the bailout at the March EU Summit or that a complete package – somewhere near $2 trillion including European and IMF funds –  will be ready or concluded by the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers when they meet again toward the end of April.  But we can see that the G20 Ministers and Central Bankers meeting has been important in trying to construct a bailout package.  Furthermore in looking at the comments of the ministers and central bankers there is not a simple divide between developed and large emerging market states and developing countries.

Speculation over the legitimacy of the G20 continues apace.  But the legitimacy focus is ill placed (see the Reuters blog – “The Great Debate” and the article by Terra Lawson-Remer, february 24, 2012) .  The current troubles in constructing a bailout package reflect  popular and legislative opposition in a number of countries – Germany most notably – but in other European countries as well and in the United States.  This is not a G20 legitimacy debate at all; it is a political battle in the domestic and international contexts.  That fact that executives and their officials cannot act without calculating legislative dis/approval is not new – remember the “failure” of the Kennedy Round  in the US Congress.  But this says next to nothing about G20 legitimacy.  What it reflects is that global economic negotiating, indeed almost any international negotiating – as we were told long ago by Harvard’s Robert Putnam – requires officials to negotiate in two ways – across the table with other leaders and officials, and backwards and over their shoulders with the legislators and broader publics of the country.  The “high table” of international economic negotiations has never been leaders and officials divorced from domestic politics.  And it isn’t now.

Image Credit:  Chris Skinner – Financial Services Club Blog



Tackling ‘Peace and Security’ at the G20 – Sort of








This weekend a number of these foreign ministers – most notably United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Germany’s Guido Westerwelle  – will convene at the invitation of Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa in Los Cabos Mexico (in June the G20 Leaders Summit will meet at Los Cabos). – For the first time these ministers gather under the G20 umbrella to discuss – at least in principal – “foreign and security” policy.

Is this then the final grand leap of the G20? Will the Leaders Summit now include a full global summitry agenda economic, financial, peace and security?  Will G20 Leaders gather to tackle economic and financial regulatory reform and securities crises as well?

Well – not exactly.

Among the G20 there has always been tension, if not outright contention, over the scope of the Leaders Summit agenda.  While some G8 countries have urged tackling at least questions on nuclear non-proliferation, or crisis management and resolution, others, notably non G8 countries such as China and Brazil have resisted any extension which would bring peace and security issues to the G20 agenda and remove it from the UN Security Council.  As Bruce Jones Director of “Managing Global Order Project”   at the Brookings Institution declared

What is left behind is foreign and security policy … In this regard, the G-20 foreign ministers meeting in Los Cabos represents the first real opportunity we’ve had to begin that work.

Bruce has gathered a number of experts and former ministers from around the G20 to reflect on this upcoming meeting at the Brookings Institution website. In general Bruce and his colleagues support the calling of this meeting.  Among those is Celso Amorim, former Foreign Minister of Brazil, who writes:

Without exaggerating the scope of the changes that may begin with the February meeting of Foreign Ministers in Mexico, one is allowed to hope that it can at least initiate a process which someday will impact on the formal institutions that deal with political and security matters.  In order that such a process may take place, it is essential that the FM meeting focuses on concrete questions – such as the ones mentioned here [Arab Spring, the Iranian nuclear program, a broader-based approach to Africa] – and does not lose much time and energy on more abstract issues of institutional nature Nor should it bother too much with other subjects – important as they may be – which have already found an appropriate locus for debate, such as climate change.

So support for sure, but also demands for greater precision as well on the agenda.  And the reality matches the commentary.  Clearly there was no unanimity on the need – desire for – this meeting.  The Mexican foreign minister, the host, has made clear this meeting is “informal” and not a Summit – meaning no summit declaration.  In addition 8 countries have not sent foreign ministers but rather lower ranking officials including France, China, Brazil and India.

So it appears that there are a number of questions that ‘dog’ the question of G20 foreign ministers meetings.  Key among those is the agenda.  The Mexican foreign minister has suggested that the meeting will tackle “pressing issues” including food safety, strengthening the rule of law and providing efficient and coherent leadership to tackle global challenges.  He also made clear that the the group would discuss but rule out statements on critical crisis issues such as Syria.  So less on crisis management – at least formally – and more on issues that Lee Dong-hwi of IFANS in Korea, another of the Brookings invited experts,  calls “hybrid issues” – issues where economic and security issues are inextricably linked.  This indeed may be the incremental way to extend the agenda to more “peace and security-like” issues.  But food security and climate change might best be discussed by others – rather than the foreign ministers.  The foreign ministers after all represent a more traditional conception of diplomacy.  Once foreign ministers were the only officials that  dealt with international matters in global settings.  But that is long gone.

In the “Iceberg Theory” of global summitry (see my June  2011 blog post “The Iceberg Theory of Global Governance – Seeing it Work”), of which I am a strong advocate, obviously,  significant ministerial, working party and transgovernmental regulatory networks (TRNs) including a wide variety of intergovernmental, ministerial, regulatory and administrative institutions, are tasked  – by Leaders and Ministers – with developing standards and policy reforms that then need to be implemented by national authorities. Leaders Summits are but the “tip of the iceberg” of global summitry.

So, it is not at all clear that foreign ministers are the best at dealing with many of these not really policy subjects for foreign ministers. But if it is “crisis management” that will occupy the agenda, then the China’s, Brazil’s and others will insist that the discussions need to be at the UNSC.

Nevertheless it may be that the foreign ministers may best tackle crisis prevention matters and at least publicly limit, at least for the moment, the immediate crisis situations – though it is a setting where at least countries avoid the distorting impact of the “all mighty Security Council veto”.  And I think Bruce Jones has picked up on this crisis prevention agenda and the “speak softly approach”  for crisis management:

Far more important is relationship building, building shared perspectives on key security issues, nd an informal space for back room negotiations.  I suspect that Secretary Clinton will use quite a lot of her time in Los Cabos cornering her Chinese and Russian colleagues on the Syria question – and that’s very much to the good.

So let’s urge a crisis prevention  approach and a discussion of current security crises – even if those aspects of the discussion are left to the back room for now.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons