Written by Pierfrancesco Maria Lanza

The European Union (EU) and the rest of the world are not going through a good moment. From the persistent economic crisis, which also deteriorated during the last year, to new climate change problems, it seems that countries are still struggling to find a solution and to once again increase the welfare of their citizens. However, the world is not new to these kinds of problems. Indeed, since the end of the East Asian economic crisis in 1999, it has tried to correctly evaluate its weaknesses and to develop shared measures in order to address the problems that negatively affected, and still affect, the well-being of the countries. As a matter of fact, by establishing a global panel of discussions to find economic and social solutions, the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the 7 major economies of the world set out to “broaden the dialogue on key economic and financial policy issues among systemically significant economies and promote co-operation to achieve stable and sustainable world economic growth that benefits all” (G20, 2008b), and so came about the creation of the G7 Summit. Nevertheless, the forum did not attract broad public opinion nor did it elicit a more positive commitment of the countries to take concrete actions in the long term. This remained so until the devastating 2008 crisis, when major problems required more complex solutions. In fact, the summit was elevated to the level of Heads of State or Government, leading to a wide engagement in achieving useful and efficient results in both the short and the long term.

Incredibly, the exceptional novelty was the building of a system of international cooperation no longer built on the supremacy of the few most advanced economies, such as the G7/G8, but based on more, diverse member countries, thus recognizing the major role of emerging countries in the global economy. “E pluribus unum”, the Roman author Virgil might say today to describe the establishment of the G20 Summit. As a result, it is clear that the solutions of the world’s problems arise not only from economic competences or technical data, but also, and perhaps more importantly, from putting these abilities at the service of a shared and inclusive commitment to change the status quo. A single State, although strong and competent, will never be able to withstand the negative changes that affect the world for a long time because they will inevitably influence the solo country’s actions. It seems then, that the strongest and most efficient solution would be multilateralism, that is, cooperation between countries and institutions. This should receive increased recognition, since the legal framework of the G20 system construes it as an informal organisation that does not utilize decision-making processes based on formal procedures nor produces legal binding acts like regulations. Multilateralism can be seen as the key tool to fill the gap, due to the fact that it enables States to base their decisions on mutual trust and true cooperation, even though the process is necessarily decelerated by the lack of a common institutional body such as a secretariat. Therefore, embarking on joint actions carried out by all countries will finally lead to significant changes for society, as was the case of the concrete measures taken by States for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, with its Sustainable Development Goals, through the years (OECD/UNDP, 2019).

For 2020, the Saudi Arabian Presidency has set an ambitious Agenda looking at “Empowering People” in order to allow all humans, and especially women and youth, to live, work, and flourish; “Safeguarding the Planet”, so as to foster the global commitment to protect the place where we live and “Shaping New Frontiers”, to put human knowledge and the resulting innovations at the service of the people. Also significant is the common motto “Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All” (G20 organisation, 2019), thus, aiming to set the basis for a global regeneration, one that needs to be made out of multilateral approaches. However, current developments in the international arena seem to lead to a risk of failure due to the constant rise of nationalisms and of authoritarian and protectionist policies. Single-State measures have been implemented remarking this situation, but shared solutions within the International Community need to be adopted instead. That is in fact the aim of the G20 Summit since its foundation: assembling the countries of the world to address economic and social challenges through international cooperation and shared commitments. As a consequence, the 2020 Summit is counting on its members now more than ever in order to achieve multilateral results. 

As assumed by many authors, a peculiar role in institutions like the G20 is played by the European Union. Indeed, since 1977, the Union is the only international organisation which has been included in the Gx system and which takes part as the 20th official member in the G20 Summit (Debaere and Orbie, 2012). As the 3rd economy in the world, representing 15.3% of world GDP (The World Bank, 2019), the EU has helped to improve the G20’s projects thanks to its weight and experience in shared economic and development policies, as well as being able to learn from the other countries as the result of this dialogue. Furthermore, the Union presents itself as a symbol of multilateralism, a quintessential element when it comes to provide the G20 with useful tools to achieve its goals. Indeed, established 70 years ago on the ashes of the Second World War, the EU represents an example of how countries that were once enemies can now collaborate in pursuit of common prosperity. It can truly be said that multilateralism does not represent a simple slogan, but rather a key principle of the EU integration project, as enshrined in article 21 of the Treaty on European Union, which still is diplomatically and practically influenced by shared measures taken by the Member States. As a matter of fact, the reality shows that when EU countries fully cooperate, they can positively affect the rest of the world, as exemplified by the EU’s role in 2015 during the Paris conference on climate change when it came to persuade other non-EU countries to come up with a positive and effective treaty.

Although in recent years Member States have been reluctant to respond jointly to important problems, multilateralism is still considered the core of both internal and external EU actions. Notably, its Member States would not have had the same importance on the international stage if they were alone, because other countries such as the United States or China would have further polarized the global system. Hence, the positive effects that multilateralism can have if brought to a global level as a tool for inclusivity are clear. In fact, in an age where “the world is more interconnected than it has ever been, it is not possible to address important global challenges in an isolated manner anymore”, as the European Union itself has recognized (The European Commission, 2018). This does not need any detailed justification since some of the global problems like climate change or the creation of new technologies require the attention of the entirety of mankind. Moreover, nowadays decisions are taken not only by governments, but also through dialogue among international organisations and civil society. According to the significant Agenda of the 2020 G20 Summit, “Empowering People”, “Safeguarding the Planet” and “Shaping New Frontiers” do not require unilateral decisions, since the commitment of one or very few States will not bring proper changes, even though they can be made quickly. Instead, it demands the conjunction firstly between countries and secondly in agreement with the whole civil society.

The peculiar role of the EU in the G20 is therefore not only aimed at defending the economic and social interests of its Member States, but also includes a moral essence, promoting multilateralism and mediating between its peers according to the experience that it has acquired during the years. Undoubtedly, adopting measures like the Green Deal, the plan for carbon reduction, and the renewal of the EU’s economy from a green perspective, has been facilitated by the legal binding and procedures of the EU decision-making process, but any of these tools would have been implemented without a previous commitment to mutual cooperation by EU countries. Slowness is a powerful enemy of multilateralism if not properly regulated, as is the G20 system’s case. However, no result, not even the least effective, can be achieved if every country stands only for its own interests and rejects finding a shared position with its peers, as the experience regarding the EU shows. Positive compromise requires time to find a common denominator, which is why the process requires real cooperation between countries in order to be boosted and to overcome negative starting conditions. As said by the former President of the Council of the European Union, Donald Tusk, before the G20 Summit in Japan in 2019,“the global stage cannot become an arena where the stronger will dictate their conditions to the weaker without any reservations, where egoism will dominate over solidarity, and where nationalistic emotions will dominate over common sense. You should understand: you take responsibility not only for your own interests, but above all, for peace and a safe, fair world order” (Tusk, 2019), thereby, making clear again that multilateral solutions are the most beneficial and effective.


-Debaere P. and Orbie J., (2012), “The European Union in the Gx system”, published as a chapter in K. E. Jørgensen & K. V. Laatikainen (Eds.), “Routledge handbook on the European Union and international institutions : performance, policy, power”, pp. 311–323. London: Routledge.

-G20 (2008b), “The Group of Twenty: A History”, retrieved from http://www.g20.utoronto.ca/docs/g20history.pdf

-G20 organisation, (2019), “Overview of Saudi Arabia’s 2020 G20 Presidency”, p. 4

-OECD/UNDP, (2019), “G20 Contribution to the 2030 Agenda: Progress and Way Forward”, OECD Publishing, Paris, retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1787/db84dfca-en

-The European Commission, (2018), “Facts and figures about the European Union and the G20”, p.9, retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/brochure_-_facts_and_figures_about_the_european_union_and_the_g20_en.pdf

-The European Union, (2012), “Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union”, art.21, pp.16-17

-The World Bank, (2019), “GDP, PPP (constant 2017 international $)”, retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.PP.KD

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