We arrived in Cannes 2 days before the 2011 G-20 Cannes Summit was scheduled to begin.
The G-20 is a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies (currently 19 countries plus the European Union) which has been in existence since 1999. The G-20 was proposed by then Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin (who later became Prime Minister) for cooperation and consultation on matters pertaining to the international financial system. Collectively, the G-20 economies comprise more than 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), 85 percent of its gross national product (GNP), 80 percent of world trade, and two-thirds of the world population (Source: Wikipedia). The G-20 typically meet several times a year.
The heads of government (or heads of state) of the G-20 countries also meet periodically (currently once a year) at ‘Summits’. The G-20 Summit was created as a response to the ongoing financial crises since 2007 and to include key emerging countries in global economic discussion and governance. The slogan for the 2011 G-20 Summit is “New World New Ideas” but it should be “Troubled World, so we finally need to start working together”.
Canada is a member of the G20, and ours is just visible among the tiny flags on the event advertising. Canada hosted the 4th G-20 Summit in Toronto last year (June, 2010). As our current head of government, Stephan Harper represented Canada at this Summit.
Protests have occurred at every G-20 Summit since the initial one in 2008 and so security was extremely tight in the days preceding the event. I’ve never seen such a police presence, even at other major world events like the Olympics. The main A8 highway from Nice to Cannes was carefully controlled. Every freeway entrance, exit, and rest stop for 33 kilometers was guarded by police. Every single overpass had police standing on it. That’s a huge number of police officers just to patrol a highway leading to an event that hasn’t even started yet! This road would be used for the motorcades of arriving dignitaries from the Nice Cote D’Azur airport, and they wanted to ensure no blockages nor security threats.
The roads in Cannes were similarly blanketed with oppressive security. Each entrance and exit to every single roundabout was guarded by 2 police officers on foot with nearby motorcycles at the ready. The waterfront, where the main meetings would take place, was completely blockaded, and the skies above patrolled by three helicopters. Even the tourist office was behind the security perimeter and so had to be closed.
Unfortunately for us, the main site for the G-20 Summit was the Palais des Festivals et des Congres, the same building used as the venue of the Cannes Film Festival. This meant that the Walk of Fame, with the handprints of many movie stars, and the much photographed staircase that arriving stars surmount, were both off limits to us. How dare the rescue of the world’s economy get in the way of my sightseeing!
Many people oppose the G-20 (including anarchists, anti-capitalists, and nationalists) and choose to protest at their gatherings. There were no protesters visible while we were there, but the event hadn’t started yet. Europeans are well known for their willingness and ability to protest, and so the French government was justifiably cautious. From press reports, it appears that the heavy police presence achieved its desired results. Twelve thousand extra police were deployed around the G-20 site to make sure that protesters, camped out in Nice since Monday, would not be able to disrupt things in Cannes. Many protesters headed for Nice were blocked at the nearby border with Italy or the farther border with Spain, despite Europe’s Schengen free travel zone. We were also stopped by police at this non-border with Italy. They initially indicated that they would like to search the S&M Motel, but then rather suddenly changed their minds and let us pass.
Like the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting a few days earlier, the 2011 G-20 Summit did not produce any significant, tangible results. The event was overshadowed by the continuing Greek debt crisis and a proposed additional bailout package that was so politically unpalatable as to force the current Greek government to step aside in favour of a coalition government. The Greek Prime Minister likened it to forced coup by the European community. An even greater risk is that Italy, with its much larger and more important economy, will have similar financial problems. Italy agreed (likely reluctantly) to submit to monitoring by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its current austerity measures. The Summit’s 19 page Final Declaration is full of vague commitments and other indications of support for this or that. Perhaps this is the lowest common denominator reachable by consensus, and the most that can be expected (or perhaps reported). Likely the most important benefits of these summits are reaffirmed relationships and a continued willingness to collaborate.
Despite the heavy security and restricted areas, we enjoyed our day in Cannes. We walked along the harbour, picnicked by the beach, and climbed to Notre Dame d’Esperance, the cathedral on the top of the hill in Cannes’ old town, Le Suquet. Despite more police that I’ve ever seen in one place, we had a sense of unease. Perhaps too much security makes one feel less safe?