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The soul of Seoul

By Philippe Orliange

There was some gloom in the South African papers about the outcomes of the Seoul G20 summit — “G20 summit did not fail those with low expectations … ” (Sunday Times), “G20 a colossal failure” (Sunday Independent), “Much ado about nothing” (Business Day). Beyond SA, the view in many places was that the summit had failed to deliver on its promises, it had just been a talk shop etc. Understandable but wrong.

International summits since the establishment of the G8 in the mid-70s have often attracted this kind of criticism. Negotiation and compromises are quintessential to world politics even more so when a greater number of countries, more diverse, with different viewpoints and interests are now sitting at the table. Remember that until two years ago, the G20 was a (useful but limited in scope) meeting of ministers of finance. Because of the crisis, it has been elevated to heads-of-state level and has helped guide the global economy on the path to recovery.

Consider also the much touted “reform of global governance”, or in layman terms how to make global bodies likes the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) or the United Nations (UN) more representative of today’s world without sacrificing their efficiency.

A major change in the governance of the IMF was agreed upon in Korea. The IMF is run by a board of directors where countries are represented on the basis of their quotas. For those who consider (like the French do) that an increased presence of emerging countries in these global bodies is needed, there is a motive for satisfaction: the four Bric nations (Brazil, Russia, China and India) will now be among the first 10 shareholders of the fund. China is the No. 3 country at the IMF

Likewise at the World Bank board (where 24 executive directors sit, some representing one country, others representing a group called a “constituency”) it had been decided a few months ago that Africa should be better represented at the board (one of the reasons being that a huge volume of WB activities go to Africa). This is the case now: Africa has gained a third chair (where South Africa will sit alongside with Nigeria and Angola in the same constituency).

The G20 itself has become the first global forum for economic cooperation and has taken on board issues such as development, innovative financing, the fight against corruption and the social dimension of globalisation. It will have to deliver on these issues as well. The G8 is still there (France holds now, for one year, the chair of the G20 and will also assume the G8 chair as of January 1 2011. This is normal. Not all the issues that the G8 had been dealing with (climate change, security, terrorism) have been passed on to the G20 and reforming global governance is work in progress. Moreover, the G8 will retain a strong focus on Africa.

So what is missing? For sure UN reform and in particular UN Security Council reform. Why is it important? The UN because of its inclusiveness, because of the values of its charter is central to a properly functioning global governance. I was at the Rio Conference in 1992 and I don’t think that any other institution could have been able to build the political consensus that helped put the environment on the global agenda. Multi-polarity is there. It is a feature of our world. But without multilateralism, multi-polarity does not guarantee that tomorrow’s world will be better than yesterday’s or today’s. Global governance reform is not only about economics, it is also about norms, values, vision. That’s why UN reform is critical (and that’s why France is pushing for it).