Truth be to tell, the Group of 20 meeting in London was not much of a summit. That honor belongs to the Congress of Vienna which met from September 1814 to June 1815, and hammered out a peace that lasted for about a century.
The London summit has been a largely a European-American affair. But it did include the next stage in the coming out of China; the first was the Beijing Olympics.
It also was the international coming out of President Barack Obama, who was hailed by the European press as the most popular politician in the world. That was a real problem for the continental Europeans, who wanted to be seen to be his best friend while admonishing him that he was, economically speaking, full of it.
From the start, the G-20 delegates seemed to have only one goal: to write a communique that implied they were all on the same page when clearly they were not. Those in the eurozone could not accede to Obama’s stimulus ideas, even if they wanted to, because legally they cannot go as far in deficit spending as the United States without violating the rules that created the euro. Also the European Central Bank, which just lowered its key interest rate to 1.25 percent, when it was hoped it would go lower, is much more conservative that the Federal Reserve and its independent chairman, Ben Bernanke.
The Euros are also deeply suspicious of the Obama administration’s plans to save the car industry. Nearly all of them have been down that road over many years with disastrous results. They also have been trying to create jobs with government programs, incentives and retraining which have not put a dent in their structural unemployment. “Look, we know a thing or two about messing up,” is their message to Obama.
The Euro pols could not have agreed with Obama, even if they had wanted to, but they wanted to wrap themselves in the magic, the popularity and the originality of the American president and his wife. Who would have believed that first lady Michelle Obama would outdazzle Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife, the gorgeous former model Carla Bruni.
The big news, according to the participants, was the $100-billion trade credit plan and the strengthening of the International Monetary Fund.
The real news, not missed by the storied British tabloids, was that the first lady hugged the Queen–something that has not happened in all of recorded English history–and that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper missed the de rigueur group photo because he was answering the call of nature.
More than anything else, the London summit was brief. The delegates only met in plenary session for few hours–a time frame that guaranteed that they could neither overhaul the international banking system, nor really get to know each other.
How different from that greatest-of-all-summits in Vienna with its parties, Lipizzan stallions walking on their hind legs at the Spanish Riding School, and chefs and musicians composing great dishes and exquisite ballroom music.
The congress was convened by the great Austrian foreign minister Klemens Wenzel von Metternich to tidy up after the French revolutionary wars, the Napoleonic wars and the end of the Holy Roman Empire. It never met in plenary session and relied on an endless informal exchanges between the delegates from more than 200 states and princely houses. But the big states dominated and pushed the lesser states around, assigning them new borders, monarchs and sometimes names. Europe was carved up on conservative lines, with a determination to lesson the impact of the French Revolution and the American Revolution.
Some of the arrangements had to be modified and there were some wars followed (the Franco-Prussian), but nothing like the endless fighting on the continent that had preceded the congress. It set in motion the consolidation of Germany and established Vienna as the place to be for New Year’s.
The London summit may be remembered not for its economic achievements, but for the first American president who has no of hint of Eurocentricity, and cannot trace all of his ancestry to that continent.