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Visual G20. Montage: KHK/GCR21

Painful Contrasts and a Sense of Urgency: Outlook on Transnational Cooperation at the Turn of the Year

19.12.2016 At the end of 2016 observers of international relations are provided with an almost excruciating scene. On the one side transnational political cooperation faced a considerable backlash. Otherwise negotiation processes over years on global issues are now on the cusp to implementation into national legislation. In the midst of this somewhat patchy situation a new round of the G20 process just took-off this month.

Transnational political cooperation seems to be put into question just in the region of its 'best practise'. The European Union, a project of regional cooperation that developed over the years an advanced institutional setting without precedent. After Brexit at the latest the Union faces a doubtful future also in its core field of competence: the common market. Rupture lines became obvious, from the point of view of some observers a risky but also necessary development with regard to a resilient future. Diverging political priorities of sub-regions (Middle-, South-, East-Europe) put the unanimity principle in the European Council of Ministers to test up to the pain barrier.

A perception of uncertainty towards the political sphere deepens social polarisations not only in Europe and not only in the Western world. Democratically elected populists put the reliability of international agreements into question. The failure of the international community in Syria is alarming, refugee crises were seemingly diffused by shifting problems and are by no means solved. Criticism of the political orientation and efficiency of multilateral organisations did not yet mute.

On the other side those long-lasting negotiation processes on global issues established multilateral policy positions and an indeed global discourse with regard to the realisation of conjoint determinations. In addition to that, initiatives and cross-national cooperations outside the Western world that broach the issue of economic and social developments with a focus on global challenges are seemingly on the rise.

It is exactly in the midst of that field of tensions that a new phase of the G20 process under the presidency of the German government starts and it may be not misleading to diagnose that this time expectations of a particular urgency and scope are displayed. A certain randomness notwithstanding the composition of the G20 is seen as promising, insofar a considerable number of emerging market countries are at the table, including the big shots of China, India and Brazil. Resolutions therefore have a perspective of intercontinental agency. 

Expectations are also raised because the G20 format was open for civil society expertise from the start. Accompanying platforms for dialogue nourish the G20 presidency with expertise on different fields of issues and actors like NGOs, sience, companies and labour unions. A distinguished process of concomitant expertise assembles think tanks of the T20 group under the aegis of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IFW) and the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE).  Task forces of this group prepare recommendations on globally considered policy fields in areas like environment, welfare, finance, trade, digitization, sustainable economics and food. A kind of monitoring of the Agenda 2030 runs through these issues, derived from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were approved in September 2015 and for which an action plan was adopted  on the recent G20 Summit in Hangzhou (see link below). Implementation in the field of energy transition proofs to be a process rich of conflicts not least in the country of the current presidency itself and the urgency to speed up was lately underlined in a special report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (see below).

It will be interesting after all, to keep track on how this delicate balance, already well known from the times of the League of Nations, between expert networks, international diplomacy and the national and international legislatures will evolve and interact until and after the G20 summit in July 2017 in Hamburg.

The basic tension that insistently challenges international cooperation at the moment, was recently put in a nutshell by Dirk Messner, director of the Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg and in his position as director of the German Development Institute a central actor of the current T20 process:

'The world urgently needs a G20 solving global problems and investing in a global culture of cooperation. "Our Country first"-movements are threatening stability, wealth and peace in our interdependent world.'

Further Reading

T20 Think Tank Group

Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)

German Advisory Council on Global Change - Special Report 2016
Development and justice through transformation: The Four Big ‘I’s

G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
(Website of the German Federal Foreign Office)

Website of the German G20 presidency

Martin Wolf
Head of Public Relations
Tel: +49 (0)203 379 5238