Dr Daniel Woker is the former Swiss Ambassador to Australia and now a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Gallen.
In two insightful posts on the G20 and global economic leadership, the Lowy Institute's Mike Callaghan wonders whether the G20 has run out of puff, and asks for a 'circuit breaker' for Australia's 2014 presidency to rekindle interest in the G20 as the only economic cornerstone of the 'new architecture for a new world' that Hillary Clinton spoke of in her valedictory.
It does indeed appear, as Mike noted, that the G20 did not attract much attention during the traditional end of January jamboree by 'Davos man'. But this is not surprising. Davos always has, and continues to be, dominated by very current news. The presence of the world's media is both at the origin, and the consequence, of this. And the current news, so early in the year, was Europe's intervention in Mali.
But this should not overly worry those preparing the Australian G20 presidency.
While Davos ratified a first victory by the euro-optimists over the 'gloomsters' who wanted to bury the euro, the European crisis is not over. Christine Lagarde said as much in what was probably the most important speech in Davos: Europe is doing better, but deep structural changes are still necessary.
Europe's homework is not done, as some political developments since Davos are showing. The reigning conservative party in Spain is racked by the worst corruption scandal since the restoration of democracy in the early 70s, which might well bring the government down. Italy is again, believe it or not, listening to Berlusconi, and the Greek Government is trying vainly to focus popular anger on a single scapegoat in lieu of the hundreds of the country's 'elite' who have squirreled away their money in Geneva and other financial centres such as London.
The southern part of Europe will have to go through structural political reform, away from tribal practice towards real accountability, to lay stable fundamentals for a more competitive Europe.
But the alternative, political oblivion on a global stage, is as evident as it is unacceptable to Europe's heavies (and despite his speech, this will ultimately include Cameron's UK), so we might yet see such a new Europe. The road will be long and strewn with pitfalls. New flashpoints will be inevitable. Thus the G20 will not lack work and will again hog the limelight when its time comes, an imperfect institution but the only available global platform for economic crisis management.
This does not mean Australia can lay back and await the next crisis to be chaired during its 2014 presidency. Mike Callaghan rightly states that 'Australia has the opportunity to make a major contribution to strengthening global economic leadership'. Why not start with priority areas where G20 leaders can make a difference, such as regional (but globally important!) institutions for the Asia Pacific (a regional bank patterned after Europe's EBRD, for example) and attempting to reduce the ever widening income gap between and within the countries of the Asia Pacific.
The latter suggestion is of course as political as it is economic and fiscal. But so is the G20. Providing leadership as G20 president will inevitably involve political issues too, and the political shape of the Asian Century (and thus 'the new architecture for the new world') should be on the Australian menu, too. As a now distant but fond observer of Oz, I don't see why Australia should be shy in coming forward with its own proposals.
Photo by Flickr user World Economic Forum.