In December, Russia assumed chairmanship of the G20, the group of the 20 leading industrial and emerging economies. Hans Eichel, a former German finance minister, tells DW what Russia's leadership could mean.
DW: Russia became the chair of the G20 on December 1, 2012. German media have scarcely reported this fact. How do you explain that? Does the G20 lack significance?
Hans Eichel: At the moment, it apparently has less significance again. The G20 was very important when the world economic crisis was at its peak, and collective economic action and negotiations were taking place there. Back then, all governments were trying to steer themselves away from economic ruin, from Beijing to Washington to Europe. And with great success.
But it proved vastly more difficult for the G20 to jointly regulate financial markets - even though there is now the Financial Stability Board, a collective organization in which all key countries are represented and that makes suggestions. Maybe that's the reason that the G20 is not really in the public eye at the moment.
What do you think are the biggest difficulties ahead?
I believe that financial market regulations are so hard for the G20 because countries' interests differ, and so does the extent to which they're affected by regulation. The financial market crisis was and remains an American-European crisis above all else. Emerging economies as well as Russia have been affected far less because they have opened their financial markets to a far smaller degree. That's due to the fact that this kind of turbo-capitalism hasn't caught on there yet. So the necessarily strict regulations aren't at all self-evident for these countries, who say: Our banks have little to do with all of that and, as such, shouldn't have to be regulated that way. That's one source of difficulty now.
But the G20 members have come to an agreement not to leave a single product, participant or place in the world financial system unregulated. So that's going to be the standard against which people are measured.
You were Germany's finance minister in 1999 when the G20's inaugural meeting took place in Berlin. How do you evaluate it in the meantime?
The G20 in general represents a big step forward. It was clear back then that the G7 and the G8 - that is, just the wealthy industrial nations - could not be the only ones with a say in the world economy. The emerging-economy nations were on the rise, and now everyone sees that. Without China, without India, without Brazil, and, in a sense, without Indonesia and a host of other countries, you can no longer come to agreements in terms of the world's economy and financial markets. That's why it's so good and important that the G20 exists. Gradually, a shared understanding of economic policy in the world and in the shape of financial markets is emerging, even if that is taking some time.
What would you urge President Vladimir Putin to pursue during Russia's period as the G20 chair?
He should definitely pursue regulation of financial markets - a subject on which the members of the Financial Stability Board are currently making their suggestions. He could do the world a great service that way. I would not encourage him - because he has too much of a stake in it - to pursue the topic of energy. In that area, he needs to show more restraint.
How strong a voice does Russia have in the G20?
Russia is getting more and more attention again, especially as a source of energy and natural resources, after being very weak in the 1990s. Once again, we can very clearly that conflicts in the Middle East cannot be solved without Russia or against its will.
Hans Eichel served as Germany's finance minister from 1999 to 2005. In 1999 and during his term, the G20 was founded as a forum for dialog among the finance ministers and central bank leaders of the 20 largest industrial and emerging economy nations.
Interview: Roman Goncharenko / gsw