Moscow Memories and Milestones

July 20, 2013

As I write this, I have just left the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Moscow. From the meeting room, I could see the red-tiled towers of the Kremlin. Demonstrations following the Navalny trial were happening on and off in the downtown, contrasting with the economic tune of the G20; a stark reminder of political realities in Russia.

I have many memories from the Russian capital over the past three decades, during which I have been a more or less regular visitor here. One fond memory is when I had a chance to quote Deep Purple in the Kremlin – even before Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev, who is a well-known connoisseur of the classic hard rock band.

It was back in 1988. Following the deal struck by Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan in Reykjavik on reducing the number of medium-range nuclear missiles, the Supreme Soviet organised a hearing of international stakeholders, in the best spirit of then booming glasnost. 

I was called to the hearing as an expert witness, though without really being either an expert or a witness. I just had been active in some international conferences and other debates on disarmament and European security as chair of the Finnish Youth Committee. 

So I wondered how to coin the message to the rather senior members of the Supreme Soviet to give my decisive contribution for the ratification of the agreement. I decided to opt for a balanced metaphor in the best tradition of Finnish neutrality policy: “The treaty on medium-range nuclear missiles is on the one hand no stairway to heaven, but on the other hand, it is not only smoke on the water.” Hardly surprisingly, this did not strike an immediate chord among the octogenarians of the Supreme Soviet, but an American professor sitting on the other side of the table just cracked when he recognised the balanced combination of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple! So it worked and I made an entry in my diary that at that moment the gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson would have been very proud of me.

From memories to today’s milestones: we have had good discussions over the past two days on how to coordinate policies that support a balanced and sustainable global economic recovery. The G20 has clearly become an important and inclusive forum, not only for sharing information but also for truly finding common ground on shared economic policy challenges.

The most important novelty in this meeting of the G20 has been the very good progress in fighting tax fraud and evasion by jointly countering tax base erosion and profit shifting across the jurisdictions. It is encouraging to see the shared commitment of all to increasing tax transparency, including through a future automatic exchange of information.

This project is most of all about social fairness. It is about ensuring that all taxpayers contribute their fair share to fiscal sustainability and economic development. The rebalancing of our economies can only succeed if it is considered fair by all citizens. Closing off opportunities from tax evasion as a joint global undertaking is an important step to that direction. It may be no stairway to heaven, but for sure it is more than just smoke on the water.

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