The European Union in the G20: Priorities and future ahead

The legitimacy of the G20 lies in fostering global public goods.

From the perspective of the EU, the G20 is viewed as a helpful vehicle for promoting global cooperation [European Commission, 2009]. (Image: FE)

By Varuna Shankar

The European Union Is one of the most developed regional organizations and one of the strongest global economic players. The approach of this forum to global governance relies heavily on effective multilateralism supported by a rules-based system. It is an integrated regional organization where members have collaborated as far as sharing a single market and a single currency (for the eurozone members).It is a significant player in the G20 grouping as it represents the most powerful economies of Europe. The EU has a total population of around 500 million of the worldwide population of over 7 billion, making up approximately 7% of the worldwide population. In the G20, however, this 7% of the worldwide population takes up 25% of the seats (observers not included).

Priority areas for the European Union:

The priority area for the EU has been very limited and not always in tandem to global challenges. The focus has been on circular economy which is seen as a model of production and consumption adopted by a country. It involves sharing, leasing, refurbishing, reusing, repairing, and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible. The policies for transition and sustainable finance and reforms in international taxation is another area of focus. The part of the European agenda of growth and economic development in a sustainable manner includes social protection measures in employment and migration, transportation and travel, tourism and culture, trade investment, and the digital economy.

The inclusion of high-quality data and research and development needs to be promoted, especially as the European countries are particularly interested in commitment towards a Data Free Flow with Trust. They continue to promote work on the Digital Economy, which entails strengthening the focus on digital skills and leading G20 discussions around competition and fairness in digital markets.

Specifically, global financial reform has always been a priority for the EU at the G20. Therefore it has often successfully used the platform of the G20 to persuade other countries to follow its agenda. The most influential area in which the G20 has been considerably successful in the field of financial regulation. The problems flowing from a global financial system, especially the risks created by integrated financial markets, require responses at the worldwide level. This fact has also been duly recognized by the EU since the outbreak of the financial crisis, and the need for a global response to the emergency is reflected not only in European positions within the G20 but also in the EU’s implementation of commitments made within the G20 framework. Additionally, by aligning itself with global rules, the EU makes its own response more effective.

Global climate ambition has been another primary issue for the EU. They urged on pushing for the phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that have only led to the encouragement of wasteful consumption among the general masses. This simultaneously also meant advancing the hydrogen economy in view of progressing toward the implementation of the commitments under the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact. The Green Deal is in line with this ambition.

They also called for mainstreaming the transition to a sustainable global agrifood system that does not depend on deforestation or other ecological damage. This should be done while meeting the nutritional needs of the world population. This also means supporting the integration of environmental risks, including climate change and biodiversity loss, into macroeconomic policies and risk analyses, which include a push for a legally-binding global plastics agreement.

Apart from EU-centric challenges of economic crisis, migration and refugee flows, and counter-terrorism, the EU has also tried to give significance to issues of global concern, such as sustainable global supply chains, improved international preparedness for public health emergencies, access to renewable energy in Africa, and the global fight against antimicrobial resistance. The significant concerns have also been the recession in the global economy, the achievement of SDG commitment, the stability of international financial architecture, and the accomplishment of goals of food security, nutrition, agriculture, environment, and climate policy.

How does the G20 help?

The EU is enormously impacted by the G20 process and its decisions, in turn influencing decisions taken at the European level. It can also be said that the EU has been one of the best students in the G20 class in terms of following up on G20 decisions. This has a positive impact on the internal working within the EU as it allows faster decision enforcement internally.

From the perspective of the EU, the G20 is viewed as a helpful vehicle for promoting global cooperation [European Commission, 2009]. It was elevated to the level of heads of state and government in 2008. The Commission has pushed for increased global cooperation to address the flaws of the international financial system and mitigate the fallout of the crisis (Asian financial crisis 1997). The G20 forms a venue in which the EU can try to persuade other countries to adopt similar regulatory reforms. This helps to solve the issue of negative externalities (beggar-thy-neighbor policies) and to prevent the outbreak of future crises. This also allows the EU to align itself with global policies, making its response more effective.

The legitimacy of the G20 lies in fostering global public goods. These include sustainable and inclusive growth, socio-economic progress, open trade, and protection of the environment and climate. This belief is reinforced by the multiple sides surrounding G20 summits. They engage with a wide variety of non-state actors such as businesses, scientific establishments, youth associations, women’s groups, think tanks, etc. These institutions are often applauded for providing analyses and recommendations to the main summit and fit closely with the EU’s view of how global governance should work. The EU and the G20 thus have the potential to further each other’s agendas.

Indian Presidency of the G20 and the European Collaborations:

With the Indian presidency this year, a call for a Decade of Action was made in line with the 2030 SDG commitment. The call for VasudhaivaKutumbakam, with its theme of One Earth, One Family, One Future, points towards cooperation and collaboration with the Global South on agendas of global concern. The idea is to blur the North-South divide. Climate change and energy transitions have become central to the EU-India partnership. The focus will also include technology, mobility, and innovation.In addition, the idea of women empowerment and gender equality has gained tremendous impetus with the Indian presidency of G20. There are six focus areas for the Indian presidency of the G20, which are Green Development, Climate Finance &LiFE, Accelerated, Inclusive & Resilient Growth, Accelerating Progress on SDGs, Technological Transformation & Digital Public Infrastructure, Multilateral Institutions for the 21st century, and Women-led Development.

The European Union expects a seamless and transparent global supply of food, fertilizers, and medical products. The focus on health, digital transformation, and energy transition remains strong. The common threat of climate change, terrorism, and pandemic can be addressed with concerted global efforts, and the focus is that the geo-political tension doesn’t lead to humanitarian crises. India has several cooperative agreements with the European Union, such as the EU-India Clean Energy & Climate Partnership. In addition, several bilateral pacts with member states, including France, Italy, and Germany, have been signed. India andEurope’s green ambitions may bear fruit while also delivering on international commitments. 

EAM S.Jaishankar highlighted, “India is a South Western power with very strong bonding with the developed world, which would enjoy as it goes up in the international order, the degree of trust and confidence of other developing states.” India has performed well on its prioritized digital infrastructure issues,making its story credible for other developing countries to follow. During a period of recessionary global economic trends, India continues to be an economic bright spot.

India wants to use its G20 presidency to raise issues of developing countries known as the Global South even though deep division in views exists regarding the Russia-Ukraine war that has been manifested in the current G20 summit by the West. Division threatens progress. Therefore, a unanimous perspective on Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific must be shared to provide common ground to achieve goals of world peace and tranquility. There needs to be a commonality in the ideas and goals of the global north and south to collaborate to address global issues along with the sincere will to implement the targets set for each country at the global conferences on diverse issues. 


Hence it can be concluded that the relationship between the EU and the G20 is symbiotic and problematic. There is a tightrope that the EU has to tread in order to maintain balance both within the G20 and EU grouping. In terms of representation, the EU is relatively well represented at the G20, and the European coordination in advance of the G20 summits has also proven to be very fruitful. Generally, the EU has been able to put its ‘agreed language’ on the G20 agenda. Along with influencing the outcomes and decisions of G20 meetings, the EU has also implemented many of its commitments within the G20, especially in financial regulation. In some areas, such as creating more incredible oversight mechanisms, the EU has moved quickly to implement reforms. The Indian presidency of G20 will be a booster shot in the arm of the European Union to unanimously address the world’s most challenging issues in contemporary times through cooperation, collaboration, dialogue, and diplomacy.

The author is a Ph.D. scholar in the Department of Political Science and International relations at the GD Goenka University, Gurgaon and also a Research Intern at the Indian Council of World Affairs(ICWA).

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited. 

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First published on: 18-05-2023 at 16:16 IST