Agreements, disagreements, and unfinished business for next year's G20

Protests were tightly controlled at this year's summit, and inside the conference centre was no more

The carpet in the press room of this year's G20 is a lurid shade of fluorescent green, designed perhaps to make up for the lack of windows in the basement of the "Palais des Festivals" on the seafront in Cannes. The articles the world's press were disseminating from here were not so bright, as the G20 wrapped up without any show-stopping news.

Leaders had hoped to immediately shore up emergency funds for the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and/or International Monetary Fund, meaning countries could borrow money and avoid Greece's fiscal troubles spreading. But the resources for this "firewall" did not materialise, amid rumours, confirmed and denied, that Merkel and her cheque book had left ahead of time.

A side drama involving the IMF emerged as Italy acquiesced to have them keep an eye on their fiscal reforms -- an indignity that the G20 doesn't trust them to do it themselves.

G8 and G20 headlines are often dominated by protests, but this year they were limited to the days preceding the event itself. Many demonstrations took place: campaigners against food price speculation, nurses unions coming together from around the globe, an army of clowns, bank busters dressed as ghost busters. But the authorities kept a tight grip not just on when they could happen, but where -- the majority were confined to the nearby town of Nice, 20 miles away.

An estimated 15,000 protestors were matched almost one to one by 12,000 police. Checkpoints and steel barricades protected the G20 and the centre of Cannes, leaving the lines of luxury shops free to remain open, although they were completely devoid of customers. In the bay, frogmen swam in between super-yachts and police patrolled on jetskis.

Given that protestors' demands focused on financial sector reform, the irony that this year's G20 took place in the super-rich's summer playground and inside a casino was not lost. Many of their demands were swept off the table as the Greek saga unfolded, but one idea did break through thanks to a true double-Bill. On the first day of official G20 business, Bill Gates and Bill Nighy gave a boost to the Robin Hood Tax proposal.

Gates did back-to-back briefings on his "innovative finance" smart ideas, including a small tax on financial transactions that could raise $50billion a year for development and climate change. Nighy said in an interview with the Guardian: "This is a key moment for Robin Hood Tax. It is possible there will be a group of pioneer countries that will come out in favour here". He also rounded on the proposal's critics, saying "the other complaint is that all the bankers will move to Switzerland, but there was an article in the Economist recently showing that bankers are moving back because Geneva is so dull".

By the final day's press conference, Sarkozy was able to announce that a group of G20 countries were taking this forward, giving him some success, although other countries remained opposed. Cameron took to the stage after Sarkozy and repeated the mantra through gritted teeth that agreement had been reached to resolve the euro crisis, bolster the IMF and avoid protectionism -- but all at a later date.

So in summary, there were agreements, agreements to make agreements, some disagreements and a lot of unfinished business for the G20 to pick up in Mexico next June.

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.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.