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.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue