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The Real Power of the G-20

Why the Summit in Hamburg Stood Out

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with police after the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. Patrik Stollarz / Reuters

At first glance, the recent G-20 summit in Hamburg may have seemed little more than another expensive and pointless diplomatic exercise. The “Leaders’ Declaration,” a document issued at the end of every meeting to set goals and define the lines of collective action, is a compromise text full of banal niceties. The paragraphs on trade are an illustration: the G-20 members promise to “fight protectionism” and yet also acknowledge “the role of legitimate trade defense instruments,” which is essentially a polite nod to the very measures that countries use for protectionism. Climate change is arguably an even bigger disappointment. An agreement among the Group of 20 has now been replaced by a Group of 19+1, in which the outlier position of the United States is essentially legitimized.

With the summit costing the host country at least 130 million euros, German taxpayers are understandably irate about a meeting that they see as having little

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