G20 undermined by ‘mini-lateralism’, says Brown


Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned that the G20 summits' effectiveness is being undermined by "mini-lateralism". 

"There is too little international cooperation at the moment to justify us being able to say we are seriously dealing with the problems like food crises, energy, and the problems of poverty and inequality," he said.

Speaking at the Brussels Forum over the weekend (26 March), Brown accused world leaders of not doing enough to tackle the "trinity of economic objectives" including "growth, equity and environmental care". He added that "we are retreating into national silos at a time when international economic cooperation is more needed than ever".

At the Forum, organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, participants raised concerns that after the sense of purpose of the initial 'crisis' summits, the G20 had lost momentum and become a mere formality. 

A legitimacy problem

The panelists were in agreement that the G20 had a legitimacy problem, partly to do with the overrepresentation of Europeans. Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, honed in on that point, saying "people often won't say this [but] it's still a little odd that of those 25, 26 at the table, about nine are European".

"[A]s a non-European it doesn't bother me, I work with it, but some other non-Europeans will say how come you have that sort of composition? That's something that Europe's going to have to figure out for the future," he said, adding that Europe represents itself as a regional organisation through the European Commission and the EU presidency.

European overrepresentation has been a key issue in the recent reforms of several international organisations. 

In April 2010, the World Bank reformed its voting system, leading to a slight drop of EU members' total voting weight, which fell from 28.54% to 26.32%. Last October the G20 similarly agreed to reduce European voting weights and board seats at the IMF, to take effect in 2012. Moves to give the EU full speaking rights at the UN General Assembly were blocked last September by emerging countries.

Another issue touched upon was the representativeness of the G20 countries more generally. The panellists broadly agreed there needed to be a constituency system. Brown said that "one country will represent a number of countries, as happens at the IMF, and it's got to be a G192 in the end with the 20 or 30 people who are sitting down at the table more representative of the continents and the regions from which they come".

"Otherwise, the voices of Africa and Asia and Latin America will not feel heard […] And clearly the voices of the Middle East and North Africa are ones that are not being heard at the moment in international forums in the way they should," he added.


  • 3-4 Nov. 2011: G20 summit in Cannes, presided over by France.

Subscribe to our newsletters