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A Call for a Franco-American Initiative on Global Governance

ARTICLES - 11 May 2021

During the last Paris Peace Forum in November 2020, President Emmanuel Macron brought forward the idea of an international debate on the future of the world order after Covid-19. He outlined the importance of creating a new global consensus, "the Paris consensus, or wherever else", a reference to the Washington Consensus that prevailed in the 1990s when numerous countries, Argentina in particular, were rescued from a massive and crippling debt crisis.

That was the era of Reagan and Thatcher. The Washington Consensus ushered in a series of neoliberal measures: privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation at all costs and so on. Macron is not wrong to argue that today, the management of the global economy must follow a very different set of principles. He emphasized two in particular: the fight against climate change and the need to reduce economic inequality. These two structural issues of the current phase of globalization can no longer be described as "externalities". On the contrary, addressing them must be central to any post-coronavirus restructuring of global governance.

Paris should try to revive the debate on the principles of post-Covid governance with the Biden administration specifically.

Five or six months after he issued this clarion call, it is obvious that the debate the French president was hoping for never took off. There are at least two reasons why. Firstly, envisioning the world after the Covid-19, while death and devastation continue to spread across entire continents, might still be too much of a stretch at the moment.

Secondly, Washington has welcomed a new administration with a president who is not as "sleepy" as some were expecting, but is rather a dynamic and spotlight-grabbing advocate of a Rooseveltian program. When it comes to global governance, a paradox is worth noting: the Biden administration is joining an agenda that for a long time was driven by Europe, France in particular. Under President Biden, the United States has re-joined the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization; it is taking part in initiatives such as the April 2019 ACT Accelerator for global cooperation in the fight against Covid-19; it is also advocating for corporate taxation policies that until now were considered "European". Yet, there has been no clear emerging synergy between Europe and America. In fact, there is even a risk of competition for leadership, on climate issues, for example, with President Biden having already convened his own (virtual) summit.

In this context, we would like to put forward a proposal: Paris should try to revive the debate on the principles of post-Covid governance with the Biden administration specifically. There is every reason to believe that Macron’s view is widely shared in Washington; even if their priorities center largely on the confrontation with China, it is clear that America’s current leaders are also concerned with maintaining their bond with Europe.

This time, there cannot only be two powers imposing their policy agenda on everyone else. This is especially true because, once we move beyond general principles, the subject matter is intricate and complex: it involves institutions, finance, technology, development, education, demography, and more. For example, implementing a carbon border tax would require considerable technical and political work:  this issue was at the heart of the first skirmishes between the United States, Europe and China.

With this in mind, what France and the United States could propose-perhaps together with Italy, as the country chairs the G20 this year-is the creation of an international commission of high-level experts, to articulate and clarify the problems that must be addressed. The conclusions of this commission could anchor the necessary reorientation of many international efforts, whether led by organs within or independent from the United Nations system.

A high-level commission created today would need to include members from the Global South, including China and India. 

The Washington Consensus was formalized during an economists’ seminar held in the American capital. This so-called "consensus" was decided on by the World Bank, the IMF, and… the US Treasury. Obviously, a high-level commission created today would need to include members from the Global South, including China and India. It would also need to involve international organizations, large foundations and NGOs. In today’s world, the power nodes and centers of decision-making have become extraordinarily diverse: they extend well beyond two or three Washington institutions. This makes global cooperation all the more necessary.

On a practical level, we would suggest that the creation of an international commission framing the new global governance should be announced by Biden, Macron and perhaps Draghi, on the fringes of the G7 summit to be held on June 11-13 in southwest England. There is thus no time to waste to make sure a Franco-American or Franco-American-Italian initiative is ready by this time. A first progress report could be delivered during this November’s session of the Paris Peace Forum: this event already serves as a meeting place for delegates from the South and North, state representatives, international organizations, companies and civil society. It would certainly be an opportune occasion to discuss the post-Covid reality that must, at all costs, be different from what was there before. 

 

Originally published in French on Le Monde, on May 6, 2021.

 

Copyright: Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

 

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