At G-20, leaders look to save economy – and their own jobs
The global crisis has led to political upheaval in many countries, unseating three prime ministers in Europe alone.
World leaders embarking on the latest round of financial summitry in London this week are not just trying to save the world economy. Some of them are also trying to save their own skins.Skip to next paragraph
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On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama emphasized the seriousness of the economic crisis, saying, "All of us here in London have a responsibility to act with a sense of urgency. Make no mistake: we are facing the most severe economic crisis since World War II."
But another crisis of sorts was brewing at the summit, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy – who earlier threatened to walk out – and his German counterpart Angela Merkel took a firm stand against US proposals for more stimulus packages.
At stake for all the leaders is their political standing amid a recession. As the past six months has shown, recessions threaten social unrest, electoral upheaval, and even challenges to the state itself. Former US President Bill Clinton put it most succinctly with his immortal, "It's the economy, stupid." His predecessor George H. W. Bush was neither the first nor last incumbent to slide from office on a downward graph.
"Serious downturns do tend to discredit those in power," says Mark Duckenfield, an expert in international political economy at the London School of Economics. As a general rule, he says, recessions ruin governments. "Certainly in democratic countries that's been the case since the Great Depression."
Upheaval in Europe
Take Europe. This year alone, three prime ministers have already been unseated by economic mayhem (in Latvia, Iceland, and Hungary). Leaders in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria are feeling the heat. The cohesion of the European Union has been thrown into question amid disagreement over everything from fiscal rescue plans to Ostpolitik.
Katinka Barysch, a Europe expert with the London-based Centre for European Reform predicts further electoral upsets later this year, though she adds that eastern Europe is renowned for electoral volatility.
"You'll see more populism and more demonstrations on the streets, but I would be cautious about saying there is political mayhem coming," she says.