The European Commission and its president played a crucial but behind-the-scenes role in G20 agreement.
José Manuel Barroso was a student revolutionary while growing up in Portugal. His other middle name – Durão – even means hard. That he is now 53 and the centre-right president of the European Commission, could be viewed as the well-worn dilution of incendiary youthful ideals. But it doesn’t make it any less odd that while Mr Barroso was holed up in London’s Docklands hammering out the G20 communiqué with world leaders this week, his eldest son Luís, 25, was among the protesters on the streets of the City of London angered by the excesses of capitalism.
Mr Barroso told the story in his usual light and amiable way. His son, who is studying European law in London, was not protesting though he was with protesters, he said. In any case, the son was rather more right-wing than the father at a similar age. “I don’t know why my son was born conservative,” he joked. “I was a radical.”
Perhaps Luís, like everyone else, is converging on a view of the world as espoused by the European Union, at whose centre sits his father. Mr Barroso, while conscious of the need to appear modest, was clearly delighted that from either end – the Russians and Chinese on one side, the Americans on the other – the G20 nations were coming together in their vision of the global economy.
“We need open, competitive, market economies… but at the same time with effective regulation and supervision,” he told The Daily Telegraph in his first newspaper interview since the G20 summit. That, combined with “an important level of social commitment, strong international institutions and mechanisms of corporate governance… is the economic culture of Europe”.
Of course this convergence, as expressed in large parts of the G20’s final communiqué, is driven by a world experiencing its greatest economic crisis in decades. Globalisation, which has lifted millions from poverty, has also spread misery everywhere as economy after economy has tipped into recession. The blackest eyes are being worn by the US and UK, whose versions of what Mr Barroso called “unbridled capitalism” seemed to have made matters far worse than they might have been.
The outside world has been focused on the pronouncements of international leaders – press conferences by Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, or Barack Obama, US president. The polticians have had in mind domestic audiences and the need to appear to be fighting for their national interests. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who is facing an election this year, has been stridently opposed to US and UK calls for a larger fiscal stimulus for her economy, even while injecting more money into it than any other country in Europe.
But as all the nations move towards a common vision of the future global financial system, Mr Barroso and his team have had a quiet but immensely influential role in the whole process.
Many of the words adopted by the G20 were drafted in his office. Much of the thinking on the future of financial regulation came out of a European Commission report on the subject.
“If you look at the conclusions of [the Commission’s] spring council one week ago and the conclusions of the G20, you will find they are [almost the same]… word for word,” he said.