Posted tagged ‘Nicolas Sarkozy’

Power and protest

April 1, 2009

Right now, the leaders of 20 powerful nations have assembled in London, and tomorrow we shall see whether they will reach an agreement – modelled, if so, largely on President Obama’s framework for economic recovery – or whether they will miss an opportunity to chart a way out of recession. At the same time, others have gathered in London to protest at this and that. I am not referring to Angela Merkel and Nicloas Sarkozy, who have come as close as can be imagined to having their own alternative summit in the same place; I am talking about anti-capitalist protesters, environmental activists, and others wanting to register their disaffection – and in some (albeit minority) cases engaging in violence and destruction of property.

Of course protest is a form of free speech which a democratic society must protect, irrespective of the merits of the protesters’ message. Clearly such protection does not cover violence and destruction; but even there we have a lesson to learn. Current economic events carry risks not just because of the havoc they are creating and the misery they will leave in many people’s lives across the world; they are dangerous also because they may create a setting in which public order and security are endangered. Politically inspired violence on the streets was a common feature of Germany in the late 1920s as the economy spiralled out of control and unemployment rose; and such violence provided fertile soil for the fascist movement that then managed to take over in 1933.

The desire of President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel to highlight regulation of the financial sector as a main aim of international action is understandable, but in terms of the top focus of the G20 summit it is not the priority. Regulating the banks will not create or save any jobs. Setting up the best regulatory framework is not a job for high level political summits, but one for experts working behind the scenes. What the politicians need to do is to generate confidence that something is being done to tackle the deepening recession, and that this something will have an economic effect and will generate employment and trade. That is why Barack Obama is right, and the French and Germans are (for the purposes of this summit) wrong. And for all our sakes, I hope this event ends in agreement and in action that will make a difference.