Regional blocs in the G20: more than numbers, challenges and consensus building

Find out how the participation of the European Union and the African Union in the G20 plays a fundamental role in representing and defending collective interests on the global stage

01/21/2024 9:00 AM - Modified 5 months ago

In the negotiations and search for consensus at the G20, where the world's leading economies meet to shape global policies, two collective giants have a seat at the table: the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU). Despite representing, together, more than 80 countries, the presence of these regional blocs goes beyond numbers, introducing significant complexities and nuances to the discussions and adding significant layers of perspectives and challenges, given the diversity of interests, economies and political agendas involved.

Regional blocs, such as the African Union and the European Union, are alliances of countries that come together to promote economic, political and social cooperation in their respective regions. Made up of nations with common interests, these blocs aim to strengthen their collective position on the global stage and reflect the importance of considering the voices and interests of entire regions, rather than just individual nations.

However, unlike countries acting individually, the influence of these blocs depends on internal cohesion, negotiating capacity and the alignment of interests between its members. The European Union has been a permanent member since the creation of the G20. The African Union has participated on several occasions as a guest member of the Group and was approved as a permanent member during the New Delhi summit in September 2023, with strong support from Brasil. And now, during the Brazilian presidency, it is making its debut with this new status.

Made up of nations with common interests, these blocs aim to strengthen their collective position on the global stage and reflect the importance of considering the voices and interests of entire regions, rather than just individual nations.

Joining the G20 in different contexts

Flávio Luís Pazeto, First Secretary of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and responsible for the general coordination of the G20, explains the historical and contextual differences between the two blocs' participation. The EU's participation is strongly related to the historical formation of the G20, which was born with an economic bias, with the aim of being a forum for overcoming international financial crises.

According to Pazeto, "from the point of view of national states, Europe is a fragmentation of different actors, of more than 30 countries. But taken as a whole, it is the largest trading bloc in the world and the European Union is the political entity that best represents this economic whole.”

Pazeto also explains that the EU has reached an advanced stage of economic integration and functioning that is an inspiration for many parts of the world. "If the G20 were made up of the largest economies of the individual European countries, there would be an undesirable fragmentation that would not convey the message that this is the largest economic bloc in the world," he points out. He also adds that important negotiations and decisions currently only have legal validity if they are taken by the EU and no longer within the jurisdiction of nation states.

The entry of the African Union is the result of a need to resolve Africa's under-representation in the G20, which until then had only South Africa as a permanent member. Pazeto explains "the blocs are different in terms of economic integration. The African Union has a more political role, especially in dealing with crises on the continent. With the recent creation of a free trade area, the African Union is making progress in economic integration, although it has not yet reached the level of integration of the European Union. But it plays a very important role together with what they call sub-regional organizations in Africa".

Permanent members have specific tasks

From a practical and immediate point of view, Pazeto points out that "as a guest, the African Union, or any invited entity, country or organization, cannot block decisions, which take place in the G20 by consensus. From now on, as a full member, the African Union will be able to do so, for example. This brings fundamental empowerment".

Pazeto also explains that Brasil supports the African Union's entry and advocates that African issues be increasingly present on the G20 agenda: "A first step was to admit the African Union. What is the next step for Brasil's presidency? To ensure that issues of interest to Africa are more firmly on the G20 agenda," he concludes.

The participation of regional blocs such as the African Union and the European Union brings to the G20 table a collective representation that transcends numbers and population, demographic, economic and social indicators. Their presence highlights the importance of considering the realities of entire regions in decision-making, despite the challenges they face in harmonizing internal positions and influencing the global agenda.

This collective approach can boost discussions on sustainable development, fair trade and other issues that directly affect the member countries of these blocs. At the same time, it is in line with the priorities of the Brazilian presidency: the fight against hunger and poverty; the promotion of sustainable development; and the reform of global governance institutions.