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Last month in Rome CFR cosponsored the first European meeting of the Council of Councils (CoC), a global network of twenty-four prominent think tanks. The setting provided an fitting backdrop to discuss the yawning chasm between today’s surging global threats and the anemic multilateral defenses designed to address them. We met in the gleaming Italian Foreign Ministry, but the parlous state of global governance recalled the crumbling pillars and walls of the nearby Forum and Coliseum—the structures of a once mighty empire laid low by time and change.
Organized by Italy’s Institute of International Affairs, “Europe and the Future of Global Governance” took place on September 8-10, on the heels of a disappointing Group of Twenty (G-20) summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. The agenda ranged widely: Participants debated the effects of the eurozone crisis on the EU’s contributions to global order; prospects for trade liberalization across the Atlantic and the Pacific; regional and global responses to political turmoil in the Arab world; the changing landscape of global energy security; and the role of the BRICS and of the G20 in global governance. Our deliberations revealed a world in flux, bereft of previous solidarities and uncertain of where leadership would emerge.
You can find a complete summary here, but five insights merit special mention.
- First, Europe’s ongoing economic and political crisis has global (not simply continental) ramifications which will reverberate for years. The sovereign debt crisis has tarnished the EU’s model of economic integration and cast doubt on the future of the European project. As European publics and governments become increasingly inward-looking, the EU has found it difficult to act as a coherent unit diplomatically, failing to present a united front on security issues ranging from Libya to Syria. European participants agreed that the only way to restore Europe’s vitality was to increase integration at the political as well as the economic level. In the words of keynote speaker Emma Bonino, Italy’s foreign minister, “such a Europe would carry more weight on the international scene and contribute more effectively to global governance in an ever more multipolar and interdependent world.” An immediate priority for Eurozone countries is to complete their planned banking union.
- Second, preferential trade agreements, including the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) must not fragment the global economy. Since the WTO entered into force nearly twenty years ago, more than five hundred preferential trade agreements (PTAs) have entered into effect. Two of the biggest, TTIP and TPP, are now under consideration. While participants expressed general support for PTAs, particularly given the moribund state of WTO negotiations, those from emerging economies cautioned that such arrangements must remain open in principle to non-members and avoid becoming instruments of protectionism.
- Third, the current upheavals in the Arab world are likely to persist and may become even more volatile, given growing rivalry among regional players, rising sectarian tensions, the continued absence of robust regional and sub-regional organizations, and the declining influence of extra-regional players like the EU and even the United States. At the same time, the geopolitical context of the Middle East and North Africa is becoming more complex, as outside players—including Russia, China, and Brazil—seek to make their influence felt. In this increasingly crowded landscape, the EU and the United States will need to recalibrate their long-term goals for the region and consider the potential of new multilateral frameworks to help ameliorate regional tensions.
- Fourth, the rise of the BRICS offers an opportunity to reform international institutions, but the coherence of this bloc—and its potential to advance global governance—should not be exaggerated. The BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—seek a more “balanced” framework of global governance in which they enjoy voice and political weight commensurate with their growing wealth. The coalition has advanced a number of tangible initiatives, including moving forward with plans to establish a “BRICS Development Bank” and announcing (on the margins of St. Petersburg) their intent to create a $100 billion joint foreign reserve pool that would complement (and in some eyes substitute for) IMF lending. The major challenge for the BRICS going forward is to reconcile their often diverging national, regional, and global priorities into a common vision, as well as to manage geopolitical rivalry and mistrust among members themselves.
- Finally, the G20 continues to disappoint as an apex forum for global governance, with the thin gruel of the St. Petersburg communiqué offering a case in point. It was increasingly clear, participants agreed, that the G20 was struggling to shift from a crisis committee, where it had enjoyed success, to a more general steering group capable of reconciling the priorities and interests of its broad membership. But if conferees shared this diagnosis, they differed on their preferred course of treatment. Some advocated a “back to basics” agenda, so that summits could focus on a narrowly defined and realistically achievable set of objectives, primarily financial and macroeconomic in nature. Others advocated expanding the agenda to include a broader suite of foreign policy and indeed security matters—something that happened in any event in St. Petersburg, where media attention focused overwhelmingly on the ongoing crisis in Syria. Some even proposed creating a G20 foreign ministers’ track, paralleling that of finance ministers, to handle such matters. All agreed, however, that the G20 should cut back on its sprawling communiqués, replacing them with brief “decision papers” that summarize the main agreements reached.