World leader summits are strange events. They’re stage-managed. The agenda and the vast majority of the outcome is agreed in advance. The media all turn up, and there is remarkably little to do for most of the time expect speculate on outcomes. There’s an air of busyness, but it’s largely hype.
And yet things do happen. Lobbying is all below the surface, but intense. Nuance becomes key, and inference is all that is sought as hints and suggestions as to what the final communiqué might be float through the ether. And let’s also be clear, the excuses, recriminations and explanations for failure are already also being prepared and will no doubt be flying by Tuesday night.
But that’s to come: at the moment we’re in expectation mode, and I am still giving the media messages of hope, even if a muted one, based on experience. I was at the G20 in 2009. Absurd claims about the end of tax havens were made there and were not true. This time there is a lot more caution, and that’s welcome because the chance that there will be a really big announcement made on tax on Tuesday is low.
Given that I have campaigned on tax for a decade, it might be that this would leave me in some despair, but if I’m candid it does not. The very idea that tax would be where it is now on the agenda only a year or so ago would have been a cause for celebration back then; we should remember that.
And we should also remember that summits do two things. They reflect the issues that world leaders think important and they open up agendas for discussion and progress for the following two or three years.
This summit says tax is important. And it says that tackling tax avoidance is important; controlling tax havens and their secrecy is vital and beating tax evasion is a key agenda for aiding economy recovery. In itself saying this is good news.
And whilst we have to be realistic that austerity might be the real reason why many politicians are now interested in this issue it so happens that if this agenda works then developing countries will also benefit – because they will get control of their resources for the first time and so help beat poverty. That’s the message the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign is delivering at the Summit.
So what to expect? Well, don’t hold your breath. We will hear that commitments have been made to automatic information exchange – although there will be almost no detail about what it really means. And maybe, just maybe, some countries (including, perhaps, the UK) will commit to public registers of who really owns the companies they register, with many more agreeing to consider the issue.
Is that worth they hype? I say yes: it sets the agenda for the next few years whilst the detail is worked out. I can live with that. I expected that to happen in about five years time. We’re ahead of schedule and that for now will have to do.
Richard Murphy is currently at the G8 summit, Enniskillen (Co Fermanagh) with the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign