Yet another catch-22 for Antalya G-20 Summit

Yet another catch-22 for Antalya G-20 Summit

There is a catch-22 situation for the G-20 summits.

The world’s biggest economies gather to talk about economic problems, yet most of the time the agenda is dominated by the most pressing political issue of the day. 

That was the case for the Brisbane summit last year as world leaders tried to marginalize Russian President Vladimir Putin for its Ukrainian policy that led to annexing Crimea. The 2013 St. Petersburg summit was overshadowed by deep divisions over the Syrian crisis. So it was inevitable the Antalya summit would be dominated by a political issue.

Yet, when Turkey assumed the presidency, a lot of energy was spent to provide meaningful substance for the summit. It was not an easy job for especially the technocrats, since Turkey was caught in the midst of political uncertainties. 

Turkey officially assumed the presidency on Dec. 1, 2014, three months after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became president and Ahmet Davutoğlu prime minister. As it was obvious from the beginning that Erdoğan would not take his hands off the executive, it took a long time to decide who would do what. In addition, only five months prior to the summit, Turkey had to experience two general elections. Yet, another Turkish miracle happened and despite political uncertainties and turbulences, the Turkish team managed to provide meaningful content for Antalya summit.

The point of departure at the beginning was to bring a perspective to the G-20 that would reflect Turkey’s background, stance and philosophy in terms of world economic outlook. Growth was the dominating theme of the previous summits: “sustainable growth, balanced growth.” But it was pretty clear that growth or sustainable growth was not by itself panacea to economic problems as long as only a few benefited from it. Inclusiveness, therefore, became the key motto of the Turkish presidency. In that sense, the Turkish presidency tried to make the voice of those who had difficulty to make themselves heard be heard. Several meetings were organized between G-20 and non-member, low income developing countries. While big companies could make their voice heard during the G-20 summits, Turkish presidency brought small and medium enterprises (SMEs) under focus as it is widely recognized that SME growth will be a central driver of economic growth over the next decade. The world SME forum was launched as the initiative of Turkish G-20 presidency. 

How can you be truly inclusive if you do not include women in the labor force? Women20 (W-20) became an official engagement group for the first time under the Turkish presidency. G-20 members accepted reducing the share of young people who are at most risk of being permanently left behind, those unemployed and uneducated, 15 percent by 2025.

Unfortunately, the public probably is less aware of the summit’s concrete outcomes in terms of economic issues as Antalya’s gathering was high jacked by the Paris killings. That’s the catch-22. Had there not been the Paris incidents, the G-20 and the public would have been more sensitive to, for instance, the problems of women or youth who are at most risk of being permanently left behind. But then again, if a women or a child cannot even leave home because of constant bombing or have left home to live in a refugee camp, issues such as women labor participation or equal opportunities in education become less burning issues. Still, the Turkish presidency seems to have left behind a good framework to continue the work.

While I imagine that some foreign delegates might have come to the brink of nervous breakdowns or heart attacks as they are not used to the Turkish way of doing things at last moment, it appears a large majority left satisfied both with the content and also the swift organization for which 40,000 worked day and night.