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G20 London Summit: "A summit like no other"

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London, 3rd April 2009. After G20 leaders agreed a mind boggling trillion dollar plan to tackle the global financial crisis, Gordon Brown declared that the London summit marked “the day the world came together to fight back against the global recession”, and the beginning of a “new world order”. President Obama heralded it as “historic" and "unprecedented”.

But, how momentous was the London summit yesterday?

Fun and games at the summit family photo (Photo: Richard Lewis, Summit Flickr stream)

“A venue like no other”. That’s how London’s ExCeL centre, the rather dreary setting for yesterday’s G20 summit, describes itself in their promotional material. And the same could be said of the G20 London summit as well.

For in many ways, London was "a summit like no other". Only once before, had leaders of the G20, the world’s most important industrialized and developing economies, come together to discuss the global economy. This time there was a notable difference. President Obama’s presence did much to bring a sense of excitement for Londoners (and the summit’s attending media).

The G20 wives also added some glamour, and Madame Carla Bruni was wise to stay away as Michelle Obama did indeed steal the limelight outside the main summit proceedings.

Bob Geldof at the London Summit margins Media ball around Bob Geldof at the London Summit. (Photo: C. Morgan)

The attendance of veteran aid campaigner, Bob Geldof at the summit margins also brought some celebrity to an occasion which is usually dull and very dry.

But, in other ways, it was a summit like many others. There were some familiar summitry games played. In the days preceding the final climax of extensive pre-summit negotiations, expectations were lowered and draft copies of the summit conclusions leaked.

And, no grand summit wouldn’t be complete without talk of “redlines” and rifts amongst the key participants. French President, Nicolas Sarkozy’s threat to walk out the room was a classic summit tactic (a ploy which his predecessor actually went through with at one EU summit!).

A surprise Sarkozy-Merkel pre-summit press conference to counter-balance an earlier Brown-Obama press conference also revived the old great theme of les Anglo-saxones versus the Franco-German alliance – always a juicy summit story for the media.

Outside the summit walls, the city of London faced street demonstrations and violent protests – a regular occurrence for such gatherings of high-level global leaders.

But leaving the art of summitry and inevitable popular protests aside, much of what was agreed by the G20 leaders did make the London summit “a summit like no other”.

Unprecedented steps

The leaders agreed a trillion dollar global deal to tackle the global crisis, surprising pundits with a more detailed and wide ranging set of measures. These included allocating 250 billion dollars to boost world trade; the strengthening of global financial regulation; pledging to “clean up” global banking; taking action against secretive tax havens, using sanctions if necessary; and the tripling of IMF resources.

Gordon Brown and Barack Obama_Contrasting styles Contrasting styles - British premier Gordon Brown and US President Barack Obama. (Photos: C. Morgan)

At his end of summit press conference, Gordon Brown declared that it was “the day the world came together to fight back against the global recession” marking the “emergence of a new world order”.

President Obama hailed it “historic” and “unprecedented”, viewing it as "a turning point in our pursuit of global economic recovery."

Such remarks were also echoed by Sarkozy and Merkel, and the pre-summit talk of rifts failed to materialise.

Elsewhere at the summit, a weary looking, though upbeat, Dominique Strauss-Kahn declared that the IMF is “back in business”. Why? Because the IMF gained considerably from the summit, not only through the boost to its resources to lend to cash stricken countries, but also in becoming a greater partner with the G20.

Dominic Strauss-Kahn, MD of the IMF Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, MD of the IMF, briefing the press at the London Summit. (Photo: C. Morgan)

Will it be enough?

Ultimately, only history will tell us the real significance of the London summit. Nobody currently knows if the G20’s plan will work. The leaders were clear that there is no quick fix and another summit will take place later this autumn. But, it is also true that the summit’s success will greatly depend on what G20 leaders do when they are back at home. Will they live up to what they agreed in London? We’ll have to wait and see.

G20 Communique as a wordle G20 London communique as a wordle (Image: cafebabel london / Wordle)

Read more of our special coverage of the G20 London Summit here

  • 04/04/09 - Protest against the G20 summit in London, by Naomi Christie

  • 02/02/09 - Live twittering (with more photos) from the summit margins took place here:

  • 30/03/09 - Thousands attend the London 'Put the People First' Protest, by Kat

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