Double Take: Expect a Tense G7 Summit in France
A Meeting of the not very Like-Minded G7
By Peter Chase
It is a pity, but predictable, that President Trump will be the focus when the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom (as well as the European Union) gather for their G7 Summit in Biarritz, France this weekend.
A pity, as it detracts from the theme of “fighting inequality” that host French President Macron wants to highlight.
But predictable, because Mr. Trump too often succeeds in framing even the most serious global issues – Russia, Iran, Syria, the economy, even Brexit – around himself.
President Macron underscored his efforts to have the G7 address gender and global inequality through his personal engagement with the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council and France’s inclusion of numerous new actors in the G7 process. While the Gender Equality Advisory Council was established during Canada’s 2018 G7 presidency, Macron renewed its mandate for the French presidency; attended the inaugural meeting in Paris in February; and will receive the group and its 50-page report detailing global best practices for addressing gender-based violence, ensuring quality education and healthcare, promoting women’s economic empowerment and engaging women in public life the day before the Summit. He will also invite the co-Presidents of the Council, Nobel Prize Laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, and the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, to Biarritz to present the report and its accompanying “Call to Action” to the leaders.
Those leaders will extend beyond the heads of the seven G7 countries. France has integrated Australia, Chile, India and South Africa – four countries from around that world “committed to the protection and promotion of democratic freedoms” into the G7 process, and has also invited to Biarritz the heads of four additional African partners to help promote more equitable growth on the Continent – Burkina Faso, Egypt, Senegal and Rwanda.
The presence of these other leaders will help France highlight the other commitments G7 ministerial groups have made throughout the year on expanding funding to global healthcare and Ebola, addressing biodiversity, education, internet violence and the like.
But these achievements may not be able to overcome the Trump effect, underscored by Macron’s apparent decision not to have a Summit Communiqué, in part to avoid a repeat of last year’s charade when President Trump retroactively withdrew U.S. endorsement in a fit of pique at comments made in the concluding press event by host Canadian Premier Trudeau.
This Trump effect torques the discussion of virtually all the serious issues on the Biarritz agenda, in part because the U.S. President often stands defiantly against the international rules-based order the G7 countries created together in the aftermath of the Second World War. Then French-President Giscard d’Estaing hosted the first meeting in Rambouillet in 19751 to help leaders informally discuss how they could lead the global economy out of the most vicious recession it had faced since 1945. And while in the 44 years following the G7 process became increasingly encrusted with more agenda items, ministerial meetings and declarations, its essence remains this informal gathering of like-minded leaders to strengthen their collaboration in promoting the democratic norms and market economy that should underpin the liberal international order.
Macron wants to resurrect this role for the G7, not least as the global economy teeters on the verge of another recession, geopolitical tensions rise and long-term challenges like climate change close in. But Trump’s retribution against China’s trade policies and his tariff threats against European and Japanese auto exports are largely responsible for the first problem; his fights with Iran and miscues elsewhere contribute to the second; and his denial of the need to do anything exacerbates the third. Add his support for the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, and observers can be forgiven for wondering if the Seven are “like-minded” any more.
Perhaps the informal private sessions at Biarritz will help the G7 leaders focus on what they can achieve when they collaborate. Perhaps Mr. Trump can work as part of a team – so he can better lead when the United States hosts the G7 next year. But alas, Trump tantrums and tweets are more likely to steal the show.
No News is Good News for the G7 in France
By Martin Quencez
France’s hosting of the 2019 G7 Summit is a unique opportunity to promote multilateralism during tense times, but the French leadership has limited expectations that something substantive could come out of the discussions. The main objective is to avoid repeating the disastrous experience of the 2018 Summit and to keep the controversies to a minimum. Informal meetings with world leaders could also enable Emmanuel Macron to defuse looming crises, especially with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. For everything else, a pragmatic approach will prevail, as any improvement in the long list of transatlantic disagreements would be seen as a bonus.
The format and content of the discussions reveal France’s desire to manage expectations. Invoking the original spirit of the G7, Paris has insisted on the simple need to have informal and personal exchanges among heads of state and of government. The aim is to work out misunderstandings by having direct dialogue, and not necessarily to release a comprehensive final communiqué listing concrete decisions.
Emmanuel Macron has also aimed to reform the format by inviting 8 other countries to the discussions: four key democracies with major regional influence (Australia, Chile, India, and South Africa) and four African states to build a renewed partnership (Burkina Faso, Egypt, Rwanda, and Senegal). This opening of the Summit helps promote the idea of multilateralism as well as prevent the summit from becoming the stage for transatlantic disagreements. France wants to lead the way to build new partnerships beyond the West, and the integration of India, Australia and Chile, in addition to the emphasis on the African continent, illustrates this ambition.
Similarly, the five priorities that have been chosen by the French host purposefully avoid the most contentious issues of the transatlantic relationship. By focusing on economic, environmental and digital inequalities, the host may hope to keep disputes on trade policy or the Iran nuclear deal out of the spotlight. On the contrary, the priorities are designed to allow for a constructive exchange despite the underlying tensions among the members. They also reflect Macron’s domestic priorities, as these questions have become particularly topical in France as part of the Yellow Vest movement. As the French president expects to face new social protests in the coming months, focusing on “tackling the roots of inequalities” fits with his desire to open a new chapter in his presidency.
Based on previous G7 Summits, the French host can only brace for impact. U.S. criticisms of Paris activism on the Iranian dossier and Donald Trump’s violent reaction to the recent French tax on Internet giants will undoubtedly affect the meeting, and the French president will have to be particularly diplomatic to avoid further drama. During this Summit, no news may be good news for France.
1 It was then the G-6, with Canada joining the next year.