Ever notice how world leaders only pick the swankiest resorts for their meetings? That has been true from the very beginning of the modern, post-war world at Bretton Woods.
For todays opener of the elite Group of 8 two-day gathering, they selected the classy Deauville, on the southern Normandy coast of northern France, which has been a favorite of royalty since the times of Napoleon The Little. They may not get much accomplished, but boy, do they ever do it in style.
I mean, if the basic purpose of their get-together is to solve the great problems of the universe, including poverty, wouldnt it make more sense to meet in troubled spots like Guatemala City to get a first-hand glimpse of the problems they seek to resolve? I know there are security concerns, and the food and wines are not all that great in underdeveloped spots, but at least they would have more credibility.
This time around, the G-8 agenda is primarily focused on the Arabian Spring, which is to say the Arab worlds upheaval, which these leaders claim they regard with both hope and fear. Thus, they hope the new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia flourish and their economies rebound. And they fear that the war in Libya and uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain may entrench autocrats instead of defeating them.
At Deauville, President Barack Obama and the other G-8 leaders will seek to put together their economic might behind the grass-roots democracy movements that have swept the Arab world but have also driven away tourists and investors. In other words, theyll be looking at formulas to help finance the fledgling Arab democracies.
As a secondary item on the agenda, theyll analyze whether Frances sharp and respected finance minister should take over the leadership of the IMF. As Ive mentioned repeatedly, Europe wants Christine Lagarde to take over from Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Its pretty much a done deal, but they dont want it to seem a fait accompli.
For the sake of appearing objective and impartial, the United States, Canada and China are cautioning that developing countries should get a chance at the IMF job, too.
Germanys Angela Merkel is calling for the G-8 to take effective measures to bolster emerging Arab democracy and to take a leading role in improving global nuclear safety, just as she has done by scrapping nuclear development plans.
Just before heading to Deauville, she told the German parliament Thursday leaders must help ensure that the initial political progress is not endangered by economic instability.
Naturally, concern about the euro currency and European debt problems will also be present at the talks among Obama, G-8 host French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the leaders of Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia, Canada and Italy. As usual whenever top leaders meet, the resort will be strictly cordoned-off.
One of the major changes for a G-8 summit is that this year, the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and the Arab League will join the discussions. Several African leaders will also join for a special meeting Friday.
Todays talks start out looking at nuclear safety, with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan scheduled to provide leaders with an update on the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Prevailing disagreements over online privacy and regulation may surface at a special session Thursday on the future of the Internet economy. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Eric Schmidt of Google and other Internet executives took part in two days of debates in Paris this week that resulted in recommendations for the Deauville summit.
On the promotional end, Egypt and Tunisia, where popular revolts this year overthrew authoritarian regimes, want to show that they are still sound investment destinations even though the future shape and policies of their governments remains unclear.
Astutely, Sarkozy wants this to be the founding moment of a partnership between the G-8 and Arab countries. Yet, such a partnership may be strained by tensions over how to handle Libya. NATO appears to have no exit strategy from its U.N.-sanctioned air campaign launched two months ago to shore up Libyan rebel forces, and efforts to oust leader Moammar Gadhafi remain elusive.
Non-committal as ever, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says its too soon to reach a deal on dollar amounts for assistance to the Arab world. This week, also illustrating his ambiguity, Geithner said both Lagarde and Mexicos Agustín Carstens are great candidates to the IMF post.