Ambitious Plans – The Themes and Goals of Germany’s B20 Presidency

Stormy-Annika Mildner © BDI

The German B20 Presidency has ambitious plans. Seven working groups, each of which comprises around 100 representatives from industry and business associations, are drawing up recommendations to the G20 on diverse economic issues. Reaching agreement is not always easy, but the success of the B20 in previous years shows that it is worth it in the end, as Stormy-Annika Mildner, BDI’s foreign economic policy expert and B20 Sherpa argues.

What is the B20?

Since 2010, the B20 (Business 20) has been responsible for the official business dialogue of the G20 – the group of 20 leading industrialized and emerging countries. The global advisory body helps the G20 countries respond to global challenges. The complex and internationally connected work of the B20 is coordinated by business representatives of the country that at the time is holding the G20 Presidency. For the twelve months of the German Presidency, the leading German business associations – the Federation of German Industries (BDI), the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) and the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) – have taken over the leadership of the B20 from representatives of the Chinese business community, CCPIT. The B20 represents with one voice the business interests of the G20 countries, in sectors ranging from industry to finance. Both small and big companies take part in the B20. More than 700 representatives of companies and business associations belong to the B20 each year. The B20 members reach agreement by consensus on the recommendations that are ultimately made to the G20.

Which topics are on the agenda of the B20?

Under the leadership of Jürgen Heraeus, the B20 Chair and well-known entrepreneur, Germany’s B20 Presidency has adopted the motto “Resilience, Responsibility, Responsiveness – Towards a Future-oriented, Sustainable World Economy”.

We have drawn up ambitious plans – because the challenges are enormous. There is an urgent need for a political response to the traditional B20 themes of trade, investment, and financial markets. But the agenda of Germany’s B20 Presidency also covers new topics that are now under the spotlight owing to global developments. Besides digitalization, they include climate change and health issues. Moreover, the B20 will focus intensively on Africa.

Can the B20 have a real impact?

The fact that business representatives from all G20 member countries engage in regular exchanges, consolidate interests and promote joint positions is, in itself, of value. In this way, the B20 contributes to understanding, trust, and interconnectedness. It is often through these intensive exchanges that it first becomes clear that our interests and goals are more similar than we originally thought. For the G20, it is important and helpful to have a consolidated position on the economy rather than a cacophony of voices from the individual member states. Moreover, the G20 relies on the expertise and practical experience of the business community in order to identify the measures that need to be taken.

Many of the B20 recommendations are incorporated into G20 decisions – each year, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) analyses this process. Moreover, recommendations of the B20 are often explicitly referred to in G20 statements. We believe that the B20 played an important role, for example, in the G20’s current focus on digital trade and in the numerous G20 initiatives aimed at improved funding for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Does everything go smoothly in the B20 or do you also have conflicts?

Our work is directed towards the G20 summit in Hamburg in July, where the heads of state and government of the G20 countries discuss the looming global challenges. Until then, we are working hard to come up with concrete recommendations for action on the various G20 themes.

It goes without saying that – like in the G20 – negotiations are sometimes difficult and heated. At the same time, discussions are always conducted in an agreeable manner even during intensive exchanges. Indeed, we all have the same goal: sustainable, inclusive and dynamic growth in a world that is becoming ever more closely integrated.

Does the world really need the G20?

Most of today’s challenges are global. One state alone will not be able to tackle them. Countries opting to go it alone are doomed to failure. For this reason, the G20 not only plays an important role in providing an impulse for economic Policy-makers; it is also important for determining the agenda of international economic policy and governance. It helps to further develop the rules for the global economy. Of course, it is true that the G20 does not have a permanent secretariat like that of the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization. And in contrast with those organizations, it cannot take any decisions that are binding under international law. But precisely because it is not dependent on rigid structures, it has been able to demonstrate during times of crisis the flexibility needed to secure the main planks of global economic policy. If we did not have the G20 yet, we would need to create it today.

Stormy-Annika Mildner has headed the Foreign Economic Policy Department of the BDI since 2014 and is Sherpa for the B20. Previously, she was a member of the executive board of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).