In the aftermath of the terrorist atrocities in Paris, international leaders are meeting at the Group of 20 (G20) summit, which started on November 15 and will end on November 16 in the Turkish city of Antalya. Presidents and prime ministers will be in attendance from the United States, China (which assumes the G20 chair in 2016), India, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Russia, Brazil, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, South Korea, Argentina, Mexico and the European Union (EU). Collectively, these powers account for some 90 per cent of global GDP, 80 per cent of world trade, and around 66 per cent of global population.
The Paris attacks, the most deadly in Europe since the Madrid bombings in 2004 and the worst act of violence in France since the Second World War, have reshaped the G20 agenda. The meeting will now include discussion of the atrocities and the response to them, and also on the migration crisis in the Middle East and Europe, and could thus become one of the most important G20 summits since the April 2009 meeting in London during the storm of the international financial crisis.
President Francois Hollande has declared a nationwide “state of emergency” after the “unprecedented” atrocities that have killed at least 128 people, with 87 reported dead at the Bataclan concert venue alone, and some 350 people injured, around 90 of them seriously. Given the scale of the tragedy caused by at least three coordinated teams of terrorists, which Hollande has called an “act of war”, world leaders have already pledged their support to the French authorities who remain on crisis alert with 1,500 extra military personnel now stationed across Paris.
Eight terrorists are confirmed dead, seven of them by detonating suicide belts, and police are still looking for accomplices. It is reported that a Syrian and an Egyptian passport was found with the bodies of two of these suicide attackers, and Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and th Levant) has declared responsibility for the atrocities, which Hollande said was “planned outside [France], with outside involvement which an investigation will seek to establish”.
Alarmingly, Greece’s Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas has said that the owner of the Syrian passport entered the EU through the Greek island of Leros on October 3. If confirmed that this is the bomber in question, it will be a source of grave concern for security and counter-terrorism officials and will be raised at the G20 too given that the migration crisis is also on the agenda. Turkey, the host of the G20, is occupying centrestage in the migration crisis having already taken in some two million refugees from the Middle East, mainly from Syria and Iraq. For the European Union too, which has also seen half a million refugees this year cross its borders, including from sub-Saharan Africa and states such as Afghanistan, the scale of the challenge is one of the biggest for decades, threatening the integrity of the 28 member bloc’s open border Schengen scheme.
Aside from the latest concerns over terrorism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also warned of the possibility of major disorder in the Balkan states if her own country were to shut down its borders to refugees, as some of her coalition government partners have mooted. Earlier this month she referenced the troubles of the Balkans in the 1990s asserting that she does “not want military conflicts to be necessary there again”.
So there will be calls at the summit for greater aid from a wider spread of G20 states given what the EU asserts is the “global nature” of the problem. Meanwhile, EU leaders will be doubling down on their diplomacy with Turkey to offer even greater incentives, including the possibility of progress in its bid to join the EU, in exchange for Ankara agreeing to re-settle the bulk of the refugees currently within its borders, rather than them travelling onto Europe.
Elsewhere at the summit, a second humanitarian agenda item will centre around a final collective push toward a new global climate treaty next month at the UN’s landmark Paris Summit. Moreover, the G20 will also call for implementation of the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development agreed in September.
On the economic front, the G20 meeting also has a sizeable itinerary. The standout item is the move toward a more transparent global tax regime applying to firms with revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars, to help try prevent tax evasion and illegal funds flows.
The G20 initiative here comes in response to plans drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) designed specifically to help tackle the practice of so-called Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) through which firms pull money out of countries where profits are earned into jurisdictions like Bermuda that do not tax them. The OECD, which calls the plan “the first substantial — and overdue — renovation of the international tax standards in almost a century”, estimates the amount of revenue losses from BEPS are probably at least around $100-240 billion annually, or between 4-10 per cent of global corporate income tax revenues.
Other economic items to be discussed in the summit include an updated G20 growth strategy and corresponding employment plan. In the wake of the 2008 international economic crisis, which has seen the issue of youth employment rise particularly high up the political agenda, the G20 has adopted a specific target to reduce by some 15 per cent the portion of young people most in danger of being left ‘permanently behind’ in the jobs market.
With the Paris attacks now on the agenda too, the collective importance of the agenda in Turkey makes this potentially one of the most important G20 meetings since the forum was upgraded in 2008, at the height of the international financial crisis, from a finance minister body to one where heads of state now meet too. That move was greeted with considerable fanfare, including from then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy who asserted that “the G20 foreshadows the planetary governance of the twenty-first century”.
However, the forum has failed so far to realise the full scale of the ambition some thrust upon it almost a decade ago. In part, this is because the G20 meetings have no formal mechanisms to ensure enforcement of agreements by world leaders.
While the G20 has not yet lived up to some of the initial expectations, it continues to be a forum prized by its members, and the shocking Paris attacks will bring renewed attention to this latest meeting. Moreover, with China assuming the chair next year, the international prominence given to the organisation is only likely to grow further in 2016.
By Andrew Hammond
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