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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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.