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Crisis mode in Cannes as Greece upsets the G20 applecart

Cannes - the posh Mediterranean playpen of the European elite - is in the media spotlight again; but this time it's for a three-day G20 summit focused on sorting out the financial fate of Greece.

Chancellor Merkel in Cannes with French President Sarkozy

France, Germany and the EU face a daunting task with Greece

Anyone who has been to Cannes on the Cote d'Azur will remember the unique atmosphere: That mixture of swanky sophistication that attracts the rich and famous - and those lacking that cachet, but who want to be a part of it.

The casual visitor can catch a glimpse of all this along the 'Croisette,' the palm-fringed boulevard that runs along the Mediterranean.

Over the next three days, however, it will all be different: None of the usual smorgasbord of flashy lifestyles. Instead, the entire area around the Boulevard de la Croisette is cordoned off. Only people and vehicles with special permits are allowed into the exclusion zone.

The reason: The festival palace - otherwise world famous as the home of the annual Cannes Film Festival - is the venue for the leaders of the G20 group of major industrial and emerging nations.

Shockwaves from Greece have shaken the G20

Bonbon Sculptures with national flags on display at the G20 summit in Cannes

No sweet deal expected from the G20 summit, but will things unravel?

History is about to be written in Cannes; at least, that's what it says on the countless placards fastened to every lamppost in the city.

However, to write history, the summit participants first have to save Greece - and then the world.

The planners of the G20 summit initially thought they had it all figured out. Just in time, the European Union conjured up an enormous rescue package for the eurozone in general and Greece in particular.

The intent was to have a free hand in Cannes to focus on the global economy, to reform the world's currency system and to further regulate financial markets.

But then, on Monday evening - coincidently Halloween - came the shock from Athens: Prime Minister George Papandreou announced that he would like to ask his fellow Greeks in a referendum whether or not they supported the European rescue plan.

Crisis mode instead of swanky summit

It was a lone decision by the prime minister and it surprised everybody - in Europe, and even those in his own government. The phone lines were running red hot between Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Athens.

Result: An earlier-than-planned arrival in Cannes for German Chancellor Angela Merkel; crisis meetings late Wednesday; Papandreou summoned to the Cote d'Azur.

If Merkel - along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, EU Commission President Jose Manual Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the eurozone group of nations - do not find some kind of solution, then the Europeans on Thursday will have disgraced themselves in front of the entire G20.

G-20 protesters in Nice

Protesters are being kept a safe distance from the summit venue

Whether the leaders of the world's 20 major economies will then be able to simply return to business-as-usual is more than questionable.

Swimming and flying prohibited

All the work may be to no avail, despite every conceivable effort by the French president to polish up the leftover luster from the previous summit in Nice.

Of course, no costs have been spared to ensure the safety of the visiting dignitaries.

An estimated 20 million euros is the price tag for the security operations, reportedly involving some 12,000 police officers. The rich and famous have to park their yachts somewhere else for a few days. Their private planes can neither take off nor land at Cannes-Mandelieu airport.

Even swimming in the still warm waters of the Mediterranean, at least in the Bay of Cannes, is prohibited, as is any other ship traffic.

Demonstrators may express their opinions in Nice, 30 kilometers (20 miles) away. The first protests on Tuesday evening ended without incident.

Author: Henrik Böhme / gb
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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