What to look out for at the G20 summit

Leaders are piling into Cannes. Here are the top topics on the agenda at this year's conference.

Promotional posters lining the streets around this year's G20 summit on the French Riviera carry the message: "L'Histoire s'écrit à Cannes" ["The history is written in Cannes"]. This is a lot for the host, Nicolas Sarkozy, to live up to. Even before France took presidency of the G20 at the start of this year, Sarkozy had publicly been relishing his time in the international spotlight. His ambitious agenda for "reforming the international monetary system" and "strengthening the social dimension of globalisation" would portray him as a global statesman, boosting his image at home and paving the way for his re-election bid in France next year.

Yet all is not going smoothly. Presidents, chancellors and prime ministers are piling in to Cannes ahead of the short official summit -- which is just 24 hours long -- for emergency talks on saving the system, not reforming it.

His global vision has been overshadowed by problems closer to home. The slow-coming European rescue deal, which did little for anyone's political legacy, has been thrown into fresh uncertainty as Greece announced its intention to hold a referendum on the terms of its aid package.

Sarkozy was clearly rattled, speaking publicly of his shock and the need to stick to the plan, something he will re-iterate during emergency talks between himself, Angela Merkel and George Papandreou this evening. This story has dominated the headlines, along with the chances of China's Hu Jintao throwing the euro a lifeline in Cannes.

Sarkozy is not headline news. During the first day of official G20 business tomorrow, he will be hoping to make his mark and bring the spotlight back on him.

He has long advocated a financial transaction tax as a means of raising money for development and climate change. At his behest, Bill Gates will report on the issue to G20 leaders. He is expected to give his backing to the tax, which could raise $50bn a year.

France has been working to secure a "coalition of the willing" -- a group of supportive countries such as France, Germany, South Africa and others -- that circumvents opposing countries such as the UK and US. The tax has long been popular in France, and it would be a lasting legacy of France's G20 presidency. Sarkozy has been banking on this, and not crisis management closer to home, to be the history that is written in Cannes.

Simon Chouffot is a freelance journalist and media specialist

Simon Chouffot is a spokesperson for the Robin Hood Tax campaign and writes on the role of the financial sector in our society.

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The beggar used to be friendly – now he was ranting at everyone

What was I doing, dismissing him with maximal curtness – and not caring?

The first beggar was walking but still wretched. Probably in his early twenties, clearly ravaged by more than just alcohol, he made a beeline for me, as if he had an appointment. He was not to know that I was in a mood from hell, though the look on my face would have told him, if he’d been in any kind of state to register it.

“Excuse me, have you got 10p for…”

“No.” And I walked on.

Why? I am almost invariably a soft touch for this kind of thing. But as I said, I was in the foulest of tempers.

Also, this was East Finchley. For those who do not know London, East Finchley is a northern suburb, which at one end hosts the wealthiest street in the country – the Bishops Avenue, where multimillionaires tear down houses and erect new ones even uglier than those they have replaced – and at the other end a typically seedy, dull collection of terraced houses.

The main supermarket is Budgens, a name so ungainly that it could only have belonged to a real person, either too proud or unimaginative to think of something else.

But what, I asked myself, was someone this wretched doing in East Finchley? And what was I doing, dismissing him with maximal curtness – and not caring?

The second beggar, further up the street, I met the next day: much older and clearly mad, rather than chemically poisoned. He asked how I was doing.

“Not so well, as it happens,” I replied.

“Would you like me to say a prayer for you?”

“Why not?” I said, and he placed a clenched fist to my forehead and made a brief incantation, something like an exorcism, and then kissed the large white plastic crucifix hanging from his neck.

I half-expected to feel a jolt of faith, some kind of divine restructuring. This time I gave him money: a pound coin and a 50p coin. But then later I thought: why didn’t I give him more? I’d been doing some tidying earlier and had retrieved a heavy pocketful of change; I could have given him a generous handful.

The third beggar was in Shepherd’s Bush. I knew him from the days when I lived there: a skinny, middle-aged guy who would occasionally stop and rant in a friendly way at me, just sane enough not to ignore. That was ten years ago. Now he was raging at everyone, accusing the teenagers queueing in the kebab shop of being batty boys and saying “bloodclaat” a lot. (Batty boy: homosexual. Bloodclaat: tampon.)

The people he was addressing knew perfectly well what he was saying. They shrugged it off. I got on the bus; so did he, and the whole bus knew about it. There was nothing friendly in him now, and I wondered through which hole in the increasingly threadbare welfare safety net he had been allowed to slip.

That’s it, I thought. I’m getting out of London, its pampered core oblivious to the surrounding anguish. The world in a nutshell. Luckily, my great friend S— had asked if I could cat-sit for her in Brighton. I know her cat, and I know Brighton. Also, I know about a dozen people there who I keep meaning to see, so why not? London was making me ill, and possibly a bad person. So S— invited me down a couple of days before she was due to go on her holidays, and I took the first train I could.

And now I find myself sitting on a sunlounger in a tiny backyard, in a charming house just abutting the North Laine, and the mood is palpably different to the capital’s. It is like a city ought to be: compact, diverse and funky. There is no reek of High Capitalism. It is healthily decadent. It would appear to be full of people who have rejected the idea of London. It still has an enormous number of beggars, but more people were dropping money for them than I ever saw do so in W1, W12 or N2.

So this is what it’s like to fall out of love with the city of one’s birth. What most surprised me was the speed and force with which it happened. I’d made my mind up over a nice lunch that my friend N— was buying me, to cheer me up.

“Don’t you have to stay in London? You know, for book launches and things like that?”

“I don’t go to fucking book launches any more,” I said. I was taken aback by the vigour of my reply. I’m only here for ten days but I have plenty of people to see and dozens of memories, all good, to bump into. I’m already feeling better. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem