The G20 helped Europe confront this crisis – now it must help the world avert another

September 8, 2013

News headlines from the G20 Summit in St Petersburg were understandably dominated by Syria. Yet the two days of discussions between leaders, finance ministers, business representatives and trade unions in the imposing Konstantinovsky Palace and the opulent Peterhof were mostly about other issues than Syria. 

The G20 has over the past five years developed as the main forum for sharing information and analysis, assessments and views, experience and advice when it comes to economic and fiscal policies or to improving the functioning of the financial markets.

As such, it has been a most valuable platform for the EU and the euro area during the crisis. It has allowed us to keep global partners well informed about developments in Europe. It has permitted us to spar with them over our strategy for recovery. And it has been a place where our global partners have sharpened our focus and encouraged us to action through peer pressure.

This has been tremendously helpful for our efforts to overcome the crisis and to strengthen our Economic and Monetary Union. Indeed, in the midst of the deepest moments of the crisis, when we were struggling to form and present a clear united European line, the G20 called on the EU in the clearest of terms to start acting like the Union that we had for years already claimed to be. That was a necessary and effective wake-up call. Sometimes problems as well as solutions can be seen more clearly from the outside.

In a closely intertwined global economy the actions and choices of one player almost always have an impact on the others. Similarly, one player’s problems tend to become another’s problems too. This is something we have had to learn the hard way also inside the Economic and Monetary Union, where the build-up of large imbalances led the euro area to its deepest ever crisis. The most important lesson we drew for the future was that imbalances would need to be monitored collectively and corrected promptly when identified. This is why we immediately and significantly strengthened our economic policy surveillance and coordination mechanisms, even while we were still struggling to find our way out of the crisis.

This time around in St Petersburg, our G20 partners gave us recognition for our efforts and achievements in beating the crisis and in strengthening the EMU for the future. It is clear to everyone that it will still take years of efforts and hard work to fully recover and to return to strong and sustainable growth. But it also is becoming increasingly clear that the turnaround of the European economy as a whole is at hand, and that our comprehensive strategy of differentiated fiscal consolidation and competitiveness-enhancing structural reforms is working and paving the way for a sustainable recovery of growth and jobs.

As a consequence, the focus of the discussions was much less on Europe than before. Much more, the sights are now turning to the emerging market economies, where there are some signs of a build-up of imbalances similar to those that ultimately led the EU into its current trouble. The G20 again has a chance to prove its value by allowing an early identification of the emerging issues, as well as coordination of early efforts to tackle them before they become problems with global impacts.

After a year of preparations at the level of ministers and central bank governors as well senior officials, the summit was able to adopt a declaration that has earned recognition for both the quality and quantity of its substance. It contains important commitments by the G20 collectively and by its members individually to policies to promote growth, healthy public finances, better functioning and stable financial markets, trade, taxation, and development. 

With all its annexes the declaration may be a demanding read, but I dare to claim that a few years from now you will be able to find in this document the roots and initiatives for many policy actions that will have been taken by then. It will have been for the benefit of strong, sustainable and balanced growth for all.

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