Rome – The leaders of the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – countries known collectively as the Group of Seven (G7) – are meeting in Taormina, Sicily, on May
Here are some expected highlights of the talks:
1. NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: TRUMP AND MACRON
The new presidents of the United States and France, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron, are both new to the international scene, so the Taormina summit will be one of the first occasions for them to get to know other leaders.
Attention will be focused on Trump, a mercurial figure who has given mixed signals on key global issues, such as relations with Russia and Iran, North Korea’s nuclear threat, the war in Syria, climate change and trade.
— Treasa Bhreathnach (@Treasa_B) May 17, 2017
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“It’s a bit of a strange G7, in which there are a lot of leaders on the way in or on the way out,” Simone Romano, a researcher at the Italian think tank IAI, told dpa. “We’ll see what can come out of it beyond ‘it was nice to meet’ messages,” he said. Given elections scheduled in the coming weeks and months, Taormina may be the last G7 summit for British Prime Minister Theresa May and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (both attending G7 for the first time, but not new to international politics) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
2. POTENTIAL BUST-UPS: TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Until last year, the international community was broadly on the same page on the need to limit global warming and protectionism, but that is no longer true under Trump, who favours “America First” trade policies and has dismissed climate change as a “hoax.”
The US had already got the larger Group of 20 (G20) forum to drop its tradition of championing free trade at a meeting in March in Germany, and Trump has postponed a decision on whether to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement until after the G7 summit. So, while last year’s G7 summit in Japan said, “We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight all
forms of protectionism,” the G20 simply said: “We are working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies.”
Germany – the G7 member with the largest trade surplus – and France – a climate champion that wants to defend the legacy of the Paris Accord – are potentially the countries most likely to attack the US position. As summit host, Italy is expected to focus on papering over differences. Its diplomats are still smarting from an April G7 energy ministers’ meeting that failed to adopt a concluding statement due to Washington’s climate scepticism.
3. ITALY’S AGENDA: LIBYA, MIGRATION AND TERRORISM
With more than 180,000 arrivals last year, and more expected in 2017, Italy is at the sharp end of Europe-bound migration flows. It wants to curb them via the stabilization of Libya, the country from where most boat migrants set off. Rome has been brokering talks between Libya’s warring factions in the hope of bolstering a weak national unity government which would be
expected to step up the fight against migrant smugglers, and it is seeking support from G7 partners, starting with the US.
“We cannot run the risk that amid the threat from North Korea, the question of Ukraine and the tragedy in Syria, in the end the Libya question is sidelined,” Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said in a May 4 parliamentary hearing. Italy, which nearly 7,000 troops deployed abroad, including in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, is also expected to push for renewed
commitment to eradicate the Islamic State terrorist group from the Middle East and North Africa.
4. THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: RUSSIA
The G7 used to be the G8 until Russia was kicked out over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. There is no suggestion it may be readmitted any time soon, but the issue of engagement with Moscow remains on the top of the club’s agenda. Russia is a key player in several global dossiers, including Syria, North Korea and Libya. In April, G7 foreign ministers talked tough,
but dismissed a British push to threaten Moscow with extra sanctions over its continued support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, US policy towards Russia remains unclear, alternating between hawkish and conciliatory tones, amid an ongoing FBI investigation into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the presidential
elections against defeated Trump rival Hillary Clinton. Italy, which has historically strong ties with the Kremlin, had toyedwith the idea of inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to
Taormina, but gave up after other G7 partners – Germany in particular– proved less than enthusiastic about such an overture.
5. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
G7 declarations usually include many well-meaning pledges on issues concerning global growth and development. As part of a focus on social justice and inequality, Italy’s presidency is pushing for G7 support in tightening tax loopholes exploited by multinationals.