The Italian hosts of the Group of Seven leaders summit, in this idyllic Sicilian resort town, are nervous and you can understand why. Four of the seven leaders are G7 newbies and one of them, U.S. President Donald Trump, is unpredictable and could wreck their consensus-building agenda.
At least one of the seven, British Prime Minister Theresa May, is a reluctant participant in the two-day summit, which begins Friday. She is dealing with the vicious terrorist attack that killed 22 people in Manchester and is in the middle of an election campaign. She will bolt from Taormina a day early, leaving the other six to thrash out the final communiqué.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a veteran of many G7 and G20 summits, will provide sober-minded statesmanship. New French President Emmanuel Macron will be warmly welcomed, in good part because he is not Marine Le Pen, the isolationist, anti-Europe candidate who could have won this month's French election. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will charm with his perma-smile.
And Taormina, complete with a Greco-Roman theatre, knockout views of the Mediterranean and Mount Etna, will provide a magical backdrop for the leaders as the video cameras are flicked on. Pity that the sea not far from Taormina has become a migrants' graveyard, an inconvenient fact that the Italians, overwhelmed by endless boat landings from North Africa, will no doubt highlight as they plead for help in managing a crisis not of their doing.
Herewith an assessment, leader by leader, of the issues they will bring to the G7 table and what they hope to achieve – or block – there. Diplomatic courtesy demands that we start with the Italian hosts.
Paolo Gentiloni: The Italian Prime Minister's diplomats and Sherpas have been working on a communiqué – the consensus statement of the G7 leaders' goals and positions – for four months. With fewer than two days to go, they fear their job may prove impossible, given Mr. Trump's potential to box himself into a corner on the environment and trade files. He's called man-made climate change a "hoax," has threatened to pull out of the Paris climate change deal and has been busy ripping up trade initiatives. The Italians might get a communiqué in highly diluted form, but a chairman's statement, in which Mr. Gentiloni merely notes the areas of agreement and dissension, cannot be ruled out. Other than the communiqué, the Italians are concerned about stemming migration and using African development to encourage would-be migrants to stay in Africa. The brother and father of the Manchester suicide bomber were reportedly arrested in Libya, highlighting Italian fears that some migrants from North Africa could be terrorists. Italy, a great supporter of the Canada-EU free trade agreement (CETA), will also push the Americans to avoid protectionism.
Donald Trump: So far, the wild man President has behaved himself on his maiden international tour, which took in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, the Vatican, Italy and Brussels (for the NATO summit). Obviously heavily scripted, he alienated no one and announced no more policy reversals. In Taormina, G7 leaders will be looking for any indication on which way he will go on the Paris climate change deal, which was ratified by 195 countries last year. To try to prevent him from making good on his threat to pull out of Paris and pursue an American coal renaissance, the leaders are likely to paint Paris as a job-creation and innovation tool. They will probably say that coal jobs aren't coming back, ever, because of automation, while clean-energy jobs in everything from battery research to wind-vane manufacturing are soaring. Will he or won't he? The problem is that many of his conservative constituents are climate-change skeptics. On the other hand, he did last year denounce NATO as "obsolete," only to turn around and endorse it, so there is some hope that he will warm to the Paris deal.
Theresa May: As one of the new faces among the G7, the Brexit-bound British Prime Minister will grab a lot of attention, and sympathy, because of the gruesome Manchester attack. In Taormina, she will look for support in fighting terrorists, especially the Islamic State. In Brussels on Wednesday, she urged NATO to join the global coalition against the Islamic State. Her other big G7 agenda item is climate change. If time permits her to have a one-on-one with Mr. Trump on her truncated visit, she will no doubt urge him to stick with the Paris deal. If she hasn't done so already, she will also confront him on the media leaks on the Manchester bombing probe, which have jeopardized the close American-British intelligence-sharing partnerships. The British press is weirdly fascinated by her typically fashionable shoes, which it considers indicators of her mood. Blingy Italian shoes are unlikely to make the cut in Taormina.
Emmanuel Macron: The new French President will use his first G7 appearance to set his credentials among his colleagues, and to establish himself as a player on the world stage. His election swings the balance toward the progressive liberal agenda – free trade, European integration, the welcoming of immigrants – that should place him in an informal alliance with Ms. Merkel, Mr. Gentiloni and Mr. Trudeau, though less so with Mr. Trump and Ms. May. This foursome will push hard for Mr. Trump to stick with the Paris deal and keep the United States open to trade.
Justin Trudeau: The Prime Minister no doubt will talk up the benefits of free trade, but does he really want more of it? At the moment, Canada has a huge advantage over the Americans on transatlantic trade, because of CETA, which is mostly in place, though the pact still has to be ratified by the EU's national parliaments. Take dog food, for example, a bigger export commodity than you might think. When CETA kicks in, the $1,200 a tonne (U.S.) surcharge that the EU imposes on Canadian dog food exports to the EU will go to zero. But American dog food exporters will still have to pay it. If the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) gets negotiated without the Americans – Mr. Trump pulled out shortly after his inauguration – Canada would have a similar advantage in the Asian and Pacific markets. The G7 leaders, in one-on-ones, will probably ask him for tips on how to charm Mr. Trump, a skill he seems to have mastered. Mr. Trudeau will also push Mr. Trump hard on the climate change file and will have the pleasure of announcing the host city or town for the next G7, which is to be somewhere in Canada. The rumour says the prize will go to Eastern Canada, though not necessarily the Maritimes.
Angela Merkel: No big surprises here. The German Chancellor will be searching for any indication that Mr. Trump will put up trade barriers. She will push him hard to stay in the Paris deal. But she also wants to find out if she can warm to Mr. Trump. Their relationship is frosty and their first official meeting, in March, was painful. At one point, Mr. Trump declined her invitation for a handshake during a photo-op in the Oval Office.
Shinzo Abe: Taormina marks the Japanese Prime Minister's sixth G7 appearance, making him, along with Ms. Merkel, a true summit veteran. His main concern is North Korea and how to stop its strongman, Kim Jong Un, from producing nuclear weapons and developing long-range missiles that could reach Japan. He would appreciate suggestions from the Americans that stop short of starting a war.
– With a file from Robert Fife in Brussels.
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