France Hails G-20 Summit As Sarkozy's Success

World leaders gathered in Washington over the weekend for an emergency meeting on the economic crisis. They agreed to an action plan that may reshape the financial world. The summit was the idea of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who represented the European Union. In France, one newspaper said Sarkozy stole the show.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's get an update next on the world leaders who gathered in Washington over the weekend for an emergency meeting on the economic crisis. They agreed to an action plan, as they called it, that may reshape the financial world. The summit was the idea of French President Nicolas Sarkozy who represented the European Union. The meeting is only a first step. But in France it's already being hailed as Sarkozy's grand success. Eleanor Beardsley has more.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The 11-page statement that came out of the meeting spoke of broad principles and left the details to be worked out by lower-level ministers before another summit that won't take place until the end of next April. But for Sarkozy, who has spent weeks building up French expectations for the meeting, that seemed enough to claim victory.

President NICOLAS SARKOZY (France): (Through Translator) This is a historic summit because an American administration has accepted to move on reform in areas that no American administration, whether Republican or Democrat, has ever agreed to touch before.

BEARDSLEY: Back in France, the light-reading weekend press gushed over Sarkozy's success. One newspaper recounted how Sarkozy had stolen the show in Washington. "Sarkozy, Master of the World" said the popular weekly newspaper Le Journal Du Dimanche. The G-20, as the summit participants called themselves, agreed to increase supervision of banks and credit rating agencies, tighten regulation of high-risk financial products, and review executive compensation practices. Though the U.S. secured a commitment that any reforms had to be in line with free market principles, the Europeans got most everything they wanted, said French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde speaking after the summit on French television.

Ms. CHRISTINE LAGARDE (French Finance Minister): (Through Translator) This summit was a real success for France and Europe. It was an extraordinary effort of unity. And it's Sarkozy who pushed for this meeting, even going to Camp David to convince President Bush to hold it. And to find countries as diverse as China, Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia agreeing on a plan is really amazing.

BEARDSLEY: That the meeting in Washington brought together not only the industrialized nations, but emerging market countries once left out of such power gatherings was a change noted by all the European press. Those gathered represented 85 percent of the world economy and reflected a shift in the balance of power that is emerging in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Douglas Herbert, business analyst with news channel France 24, says that was the real summit breakthrough.

Mr. DOUGLAS HERBERT (Business Analyst, France 24): The fact that we actually got 20 people from such a diverse panoply of nations around one table, all talking about the same basic thing - better regulation of markets, better tightening of derivatives - that already was an accomplishment.

BEARDSLEY: In a blunt assessment, summit participants blamed the crisis on unsound risk management, complex and opaque financial products, and excessive debt. The U.S. wasn't named, but everyone knew who the communique was referring to. Over the weekend, French television played excerpts of President Bush's summit speech and called it the end of laissez-faire economics.

(Soundbite of President Bush's G-20 summit speech)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Those of you who have followed my career know that I'm a free market person - until you're told that if you don't take decisive measures then it's conceivable that our country could go into a depression greater than the Great Depression.

BEARDSLEY: Monday's hardcore French business press was more skeptical of the summit's success. Conservative daily Le Figaro called it unfocused and full of intentions. A summit where everyone is happy is rarely a good sign, wrote one editorialist. The best that everyone could agree upon was that it was at least a starting point toward economic recovery. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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