The Multilateralist

Who’s afraid of the G20?

The G20’s emergence during the financial crisis as the world’s financial crisis committee has generated a lot of buzz, with some observers speculating that it could ultimately supplant much more established institutions as an instrument of global governance. But the G20 has a problem — it has no bureaucracy, no staff to prepare for meetings, ...

The G20’s emergence during the financial crisis as the world’s financial crisis committee has generated a lot of buzz, with some observers speculating that it could ultimately supplant much more established institutions as an instrument of global governance. But the G20 has a problem — it has no bureaucracy, no staff to prepare for meetings, and no mechanism for implementing its decisions. It’s a consultative mechanism, not an organization.

Countries hosting G20 summits typically do much of the work that a permanent staff would, but it’s clearly not a substitute. And so as the G-20 prepares for its November summit in Seoul — with an agenda that will apparently include development issues — a sensitive question has arisen: should the World Bank be providing analysis and background material to the exclusive club of leading economic powers? 

According to Robert Wade and Jakob Vestergaard, scholars who have been researching reform at the Bank, the issue of Bank support to the G20 has become a contentious one at meetings of the Bank’s executive board. In a recent conversation, Vestergaard and Wade described the dynamic to me this way:

This really infuriates some non-G20 executive directors because they think that the G20 is a fundamentally illegitimate, self-selected body and that by devoting World Bank resources they are implicitly accepting or legitimizing it…

According to the researchers, some of the these non-G20 executive directors have even demanded to see the budget line being used to cover the time World Bank officials have spent preparing for the G20 summit. This backlash means that, for the moment at least, links between the Bank and the G20 will be scrutinized by many of the organization’s smaller members.

In the background is the much broader question of whether the G20 will emerge as the new steering committee for the IMF and the World Bank. The G7 often played this role, but it’s not yet clear whether the G20 will have the coherence to evolve from crisis committee to a fixture of the international economic order. It’s already apparent that there will be stiff resistance from non-G20 countries to the new group assuming that function.

 Twitter: @multilateralist

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