Cannes – While the 20 heads of state of the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised and emerging countries gather in southern France to deliberate on the future of the global economy – particularly the crises unfolding in the Eurozone – pockets of activists are amassing around the summit to make their voices heard. Led by the slogan “People First, not Finance”, the People’s Forum, a group of anti-capitalist and anti- G20 activists based in Nice, 20 miles from the high-level meeting in Cannes, are concerned that the G20 will do little to nurse the deep social wounds in Europe and around the world.
At a protest rally on Tuesday, John E. Ruthrauff, international advocacy director of InterAction, an umbrella organisation of close to 200 U.S.-based NGOs, expressed his doubts that the G20 would put people first.
“The G20 leaders will look at the European crisis first, and the people second,” he told IPS.
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Experts like Marica Frangakis, an economist at the Nicos Poulantzas Institute at the University of Athens, believes that fiscal consolidation and debt relief for countries like Greece will likely have a negative effect on society, leading to even tougher austerity measures that will result in “high unemployment, high poverty, high inequality, and will prolong the pain of the crisis for the vast majority of people.”
The EU leaders’ decision to boost the coffers of the European financial stability facility, or financial fund, from 440 billion to one trillion euros in order to strengthen banks and provide fresh aid to struggling Greece, has been widely criticized.
Frangakis blasted the move as a “halfway measure” and called for a total restructuring of the euro architecture.
“Right now the European Central Bank acts as a bank for other banks; we need it to become a government’s bank and we need a community budget that can help member states when there is a crisis or a downturn,” she told IPS.
She also identified a lack of commitment by the banks to implement decisions made by governments.
Lidia Canha, from the Portuguese association UMAR, an organisation of women working to end gender- based and domestic violence, stressed that the prioritisation of finance capital over social welfare is detrimental to a country, since it breeds a precarious labour environment and effectively dismantles the public service infrastructure.
In a huge push against these risks, swathes of civil society are striving to inject their perspectives and demands into the G20 process.
Peter Bosshard, policy director of International Rivers, told IPS, “Civil society groups want to have access to G20 meetings so we can ensure that social justice, environmental protection and the fight against climate change remain part of the official agenda and that the deals agreed upon at these exclusive meetings don't just benefit the richest one percent.”
French president and summit host Nicolas Sarkozy promised this week that he would prioritise stimulating employment and improving social protection mechanisms.
Sarkozy also met with heads of various NGOs and labour unions on Wednesday in an effort to include more civil society voices in the debates currently underway.
In a statement released Thursday, Samuel A. Worthington, president of InterAction, applauded the joint effort by Sarkozy and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates to drum up support for the controversial financial transactions tax (FTT), which activists have dubbed the ‘Robin Hood Tax’, as a potential fresh source of development aid for the global south.
“The G20 is in a unique position to use its leadership to not only achieve economic recovery but also to ensure that it is done in a way that is inclusive and helps the poor to improve their lives,” Worthington added.
However, the ongoing crisis in Greece suggests that even efforts to reform the G20 will likely do little to prevent future financial meltdowns.
Changing the system
Referring to the crisis in Greece and throughout the Eurozone, Mamdouh Habashi, vice president of the World Forum for Alternatives, told IPS, “The only way to save the euro is to change the system.”
He stressed that the “cosmetic” solutions agreed upon in response to the global recession in 2008 would do little to ease the cyclical problems of the financial system, adding that much deeper, structural changes were required to address the issue.
“Contradictions within the system itself are now too great for the system to adapt to,” he said.
Given that the destructive impacts of transnational capital, like poverty and inequality, are no longer relegated to the ‘third world’ but have spread also into the global North, Habashi believes that the time is ripe to foster “a new consciousness of solidarity” across borders.
According to Habashi, the dominant economic ideology of free market capitalism is unable to bring an end to the crisis, no matter the outcome of the numerous late-night meetings in Cannes.
“They will only increase the ‘financialisation’ of this world, or reform it instead of fundamentally changing it,” he concluded.
Having co-founded the Egyptian socialist party and witnessed first hand the Egyptian revolution, which successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak's regime in February, Habashi is convinced that systemic change is not only possible, it is necessary.
He also stressed the need to simultaneously imagine and construct a new system, even while dismantling the old one.
For this reason, he strongly advocates for social movements from the ‘Occupy’ protests in the U.S. to the ongoing demonstrations in Tahrir Square to “coordinate, exchange views and look at the system as a common enemy.”