Sarkozy Claims “Progress” After Summit Disappoints

Although G20 nations agree on nothing substantial, the French president praises their “spectacular progress.”

French president Nicolas Sarkozy answers questions from reporters in Cannes, November 3
French president Nicolas Sarkozy answers questions from reporters in Cannes, November 3 (Elysée)

Poor Nicolas Sarkozy. This weekend’s G20 convention in Cannes should have been the crowning achievement to a year of French chairmanship of the organization as well as a boost to the president’s chances for reelection next year.

Instead, Greek prime minister George Papandreou stole the spotlights with his plan to call a referendum on Europe’s bailout plan for his nation and China wouldn’t agree to bolster the European rescue fund for future crises.

The G20, in short, accomplished nothing. Sarkozy’s rhetoric suggested otherwise. After world leaders had convened for two days in the southern resort town, he addressed a press conference as if he had just saved the euro again if not the world’s entire financial infrastructure. They had made “spectacular progress,” Sarkozy asserted. “It’s a totally different world, it has progressed in a stupefying way.”

In fairness, there were some breakthroughs. Many countries now endorse a financial transaction tax except Britain and the United States. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed to let International Monetary Fund experts into his country to made sure he wasn’t spending too much. But on the core issues that have divided the world’s industrial powers for over a year, there was no progress at Cannes.

In an effort to “balance global trade” — reduce the West’s dependence on consumption and the developing world’s and Germany’s dependence on exports — G20 finance ministers previously agreed on a set of parameters, including debt and deficit ratios and net investment flows, to monitor imbalances. What to do if such imbalances occur? World leaders had no plan.

The United States blame China and Germany for relying too heavily on America’s willingness to buy their products. Emerging economies as China, but also Brazil, India and South Africa, are frustrated about the slow pace of fiscal reform on both sides of the Atlantic. They fear inflation as a consequence of “quantitative easing” in the United States. French plans to curb the volatility of soaring food and fuel prices by reining in speculators seem to be getting nowhere.

Sarkozy desperately needed a foreign policy success to improve his electability. Without one, his popularity remains dismal and Socialist Party presidential contender François Hollande is poised to replace him next year.