France used the G8 to co-ordinate the Western response to the Arab Awakening. But the G20 was overwhelmed by the euro crisis.
France held the presidencies of both the G20 and the G8 in 2011, which focused attention on European interests in both forums. Paris used the G8 summit in Deauville in May to present a strong Western response to the Arab Awakening. But France had always prioritised the G20 over the G8. Early in the year, G20 finance ministers made some progress on devising indicators of global economic imbalances (a process limited by German and Chinese doubts) and held talks on the international monetary system. But the Deauville summit gave France an opportunity for more dramatic initiatives, and the G8 agreed a tough statement aimed at Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and committed $8 billion of direct aid to Egypt and Tunisia. Although only a very small part of this aid was disbursed in the months that followed, Deauville was an unexpected public success.
However, France was foiled in its attempt to use the November G20 summit in Cannes as an opportunity to resolve the euro crisis – in large part because of the collapsing Greek government’s intervention. Three weeks before the summit, Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel announced that they would use the G20 as a deadline on an agreement to save the eurozone. European Council talks delivered a deal in the week before the summit, but this was thrown off course by the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s attempt to call a referendum on the agreement. European leaders also used the summit to Silvio Berlusconi accept IMF oversight of Italy’s budget reforms, but this failed to satisfy the markets or save him. Talks on a larger G20 deal aimed at propping up the eurozone reportedly made progress but ultimately failed. Although France’s management of G20 diplomacy prior to Cannes was generally commended for its professionalism – and the UK prepared a reasonably well-received paper on the G20’s future for the meeting – the actual summit did severe damage to both the G20’s status and the EU’s credibility.