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Bill Gates speaks at the G20 Summit in Cannes on Nov. 3, 2011. (Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)
Bill Gates speaks at the G20 Summit in Cannes on Nov. 3, 2011. (Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)


Foreign aid taking back seat to euro crisis at G20 Add to ...

So much for “New world, new ideas.”

That was the slogan French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave this G20 summit, back when it seemed it would be a triumphant celebration of newfound stability, a chance to change the agenda from European crisis to global salvation – and, in the process, to give the French and German leaders world-saving roles in advance of their forthcoming elections.

Cannes was meant to be a place to develop the world. Bill Gates was invited, and indeed he will be presenting his vision for global development on Friday morning. A dozen poor countries, and their large delegations, were also invited. And the big headlines were supposed to be about global rebalancing, international development and ending poverty.

With Greece’s government, economy and bailout package all on the verge of collapse, throwing the stability and integrity of the euro in deep doubt, all of that has been swept off the table.

This has become a summit of the Old World, and old ideas are returning to the fore as Europe’s leaders huddle in endless and seemingly irreconcilable huddles to try to overcome the Greek impasse.

And that has left all the foreign-aid specialists, developing-country delegations and poverty fighters cooling their heels in the lobby. As the two-day summit ticks away, officials from charities and aid agencies are beginning to throw up their hands in despair.

“We’re really disappointed that the development agenda and food security have been pushed aside by this euro zone crisis,” said Tiffany Baggetta of World Vision Canada, one of many major charities in Cannes for the international-development discussions. “Many of the [G20]members have made commitments to food security and to child and maternal health, and we’d hate for these commitments to be shelved because of this crisis.”

Those commitments may end up being held up until the next major world gathering. Some things are going ahead: Bill Gates will present his plans for world development on Friday morning – and, since his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is able to spend large sums of money at a moment when many governments can’t, he’s bound to get a hearing.

But as for that new world and those new ideas, we may have to wait until the old ones have calmed themselves down.

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