G20 summit did too much damage

The G20 summit left not only German citizens and politicians wondering if it was all worth it. On the one hand, there are only meagre tangible results. Unsurprisingly, US President Donald Trump did not change his mind regarding the Paris Agreement. Disagreements on trade could not be ironed out. The G20 Partnership with Africa was launched but is neither very ambitious nor binding.

On the other hand, entire neighbourhoods of the city of Hamburg were left destroyed and several hundred policemen and policewomen injured. The violence of the protests was unprecedented. Plus, the whole event cost millions of dollars that many people think could be better spent. Many resources were used by the entourage of thousands of people that travelled with the 20 mighty men and women.

I fully understand the criticism of the summit, and I sympathise with the tens of thousands of protesters who peacefully rallied for fairer politics by the powerful states, for solidarity and the inclusion of all people in all countries and against globalisation driven only by capitalism.

Those protesters clearly distanced themselves from the troublemakers. Some signs read “The black block does not represent us” and “no violence”. Those protesters wanted to send a message to the world and the politicians – not to burn third parties’ cars, loot their stores and throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police officers. Violence is not a political goal, and it is not a legitimate means to reach a goal either.

All in all, the collateral damage of the G20 summit in Hamburg was far too great. That’s why even advocates of such kind of events – including Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, for instance – now call for a different setting. Suddenly they join the choir of critics who have always said that instead of staging a major event every year in one of the member states, the heads of state and government should meet at the UN in New York. Representatives of all countries meet there anyway, the infrastructure exists, and security forces are used to dealing with protests too.

There are also many voices calling for a termination of the exclusive circle of the G20. I am not so sure though. It is always useful to keep talking, even if the talks do not lead to a satisfying agreement – or no agreement at all. Communication is valuable in itself. It is especially important to keep in touch with autocratic and populist leaders. It is good if Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel tell Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Saudi minister of state (who attended in place of the king) what the international community expects from them.

The leaders of the USA and Russia, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, met for the first time in Hamburg and had a long talk in private. Maybe that alone is valuable. Yes, the G20 is an exclusive circle. And decisions about Africa’s future are naturally better taken together with Africa. But sometimes concessions and compromises are more likely to be reached in a smaller circle than on a big stage with 200 countries.

So, I think the world leaders should keep talking. I also think that personal meetings are worth more than telephone conferences. But please do it with less pomp, do not waste more resources than necessary, and focus on the issues on the table instead of staging a huge PR event. Hamburg was a lesson.

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