Leading article: France and Germany dare to challenge the US-British way

G20: The European dimension

Related Topics

Today was the day that Gordon Brown had hoped would be his. To be shared perhaps with President Obama. They would be hailed as joint saviours of the world's financial system and joint guarantors of a global future. A bonus for the Prime Minister would be an afterglow of international achievement that would help redefine his premiership.

As the last of the national leaders arrived yesterday, however, the summit was starting to look a bit like the chaotic cavalcade simultaneously being played out in the capital's streets: by turns joyful and destructive; rehearsed and spontaneous; ridiculous and desperately serious. From America's first couple breakfasting at No 10, through the mutual compliments of the Brown-Obama press conference, to the US-Russia mini-summit which re-started the arms control process after almost 20 years – all punctuated by the protests in the City and rounded off , for the VIPs, by drinks with the Queen and a Downing Street dinner, where the last dots and commas of the communique were supposed to be finalised.

All this was predictable and, in its own way, scripted. Certainly not scripted, at least not from London, was the mid-afternoon press conference by the leaders of France and Germany. Their joint appearance might have been dismissed as a childlike squawk of "me too". But it was more than a plea to be noticed alongside the "big boys" from the US, China and Russia. It was a statement of principle and intent. President Sarkozy did not repeat his walk-out threat – a gesture clearly designed for domestic effect – but the message both he and Chancellor Merkel delivered was as specific as it was firm.

Saying they would speak with "one European voice", they demanded new international rules to govern hedge funds and tax havens, make commercial accounting transparent and regulate the pay of bankers and traders. M. Sarkozy said they were prepared to compromise, of course – "we make compromises in the EU every day"– but this had to be done with the involvement of all parties. Did he fear that the Franco-German demand for tougher regulation might be steamrollered at the 11th hour in favour of a vague agreement they would have rejected any earlier?

Mr Brown could be forgiven for thinking that France and Germany had contrived to rain on his parade. After all, what was apparently conceived as a grand US-British solution to an enveloping threat that they – or, in Mr Obama's case, his predecessor – had helped unleash, has become progressively less ambitious every week.

Its intended centrepiece – a globally coordinated fiscal stimulus that all participants would underwrite – has been replaced by an acceptance that in fiscal matters, national solutions will come first. Mr Obama may have warned that the US has no intention of becoming paymaster to the world. But Ms Merkel and M. Sarkozy made abundantly clear that they would not countenance anything that, in their view, would risk good money being thrown after bad.

The Franco-German intervention throws down the gauntlet to Mr Brown and Britain's chairmanship. At best, it will have precipitated much nocturnal redrafting; at worst, it risks a final communiqué even more diluted than the drafts already in circulation, or even – a prospect almost unthinkable – no significant agreement at all, either on fiscal stimulus or on regulation.

The outcome today could yet surprise. Nothing at such gatherings can be excluded, especially when the summit brings together as many divergent interests as this one and has been prepared against so fast-moving a backdrop. Yet it looks very much as though Gordon Brown's great hopes of laying the foundations of a new world order are destined to be cut down to size – and with it, his own political legacy.

But the last minute, and very public, démarche from the leaders of Europe's two biggest economies also casts the whole project for global economic management in a different light. The combination of a new and untried President in the White House, a rising China, a friendlier Russia and a more vocal Franco-German alliance marks a signal change. Yesterday, the United States and Britain seemed suddenly a little smaller, China a little bigger, and Continental Europe a force to be reckoned with.

By tonight, an agreed international plan of action along US-British lines might have shown this incipient redistribution of power to be illusory. Anything else, however, and we may be looking at the outlines of a very different future.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...


Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
With a record turnout forecast, Thursday's poll will be unlike any election Scotland, or anywhere else in the UK, has experienced  

Scottish independence: There's been as much hatred as hope. But this is democracy at its best

Andreas Whittam Smith
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week