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The Trials and Tribulations of Trump’s G7

BLOG - 23 June 2020

Last year in Biarritz, the G7 summit under the French presidency was a major success for President Macron, unlike the two previous summits, which were both marred by Donald Trump’s mercurial temperament.

The next summit was scheduled for the spring of 2020, taking place in the United States under Trump’s presidency. This raised numerous questions. How would an administration that is hostile to international cooperation be able to complete the extensive preparations required to hold such meetings? Where would the summit be held? What format would it take? Given Trump’s support for the return of Vladimir Putin, would it once again become the G8? Last but not least, what dominant theme or themes would structure the agenda?

The answer to the first question came quite quickly: the United States offered next to nothing to the other participants in terms of preparatory meetings or groundwork. Furthermore, the summit’s location was the subject of a protracted saga. While Trump had initially chosen one of his own properties as a venue, the Doral Golf Club, he was ultimately persuaded that this would be inappropriate. Instead, he ended up suggesting Camp David. Meanwhile, as the Covid-19 crisis swept across the globe, Trump’s handling of the G7 took a truly surreal turn.

To begin with, Macron had to insist that a virtual G7 meeting be held to coordinate responses to the pandemic by the seven largest industrial democratic countries and the EU. Trump agreed, but on the condition that the setting up of the meeting be outsourced to France. A virtual meeting was held, organized by Paris and with the foreign ministers of each nation present, but with disappointing results: no joint communiqué could be released because US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that Covid-19 be referred to as the "Wuhan virus."

President Trump appeared to have lost interest in the subject until, at the beginning of June, he felt the situation now allowed for an "in-person" meeting. He also indicated that the sessions would take place in Washington and at Camp David. From the way he announced the news, he was clearly putting on a spectacular display to prompt domestic support, signaling that the health crisis was over and that the time was right for the economy to reopen.

The first development in the saga was astonishing and without precedent: the German Chancellor stated that she was declining the invitation. While her official statement cited precautionary health measures, she did not shut down suggestions that she felt an impromptu meeting was pointless and that she did not wish to bolster Trump’s efforts at self-promotion.

The first development in the saga was astonishing and without precedent: the German Chancellor stated that she was declining the invitation.

In the history of transatlantic relations, this was an unprecedented rebuff from Germany towards America. A furious President Trump – who had finally decided to hold his summit on the eve of the presidential elections – announced that the meeting had been postponed until September and that Russia, Australia, South Korea and India would also be invited to take part. Inviting participants, for some sessions, from outside the group is at the discretion of the current G7 President.

    The second development was as iconoclastic as the first: the British and Canadian Prime Ministers immediately declared that they objected to inviting Putin to the summit. Again, such rebellion from Atlanticists is unprecedented. Ultimately, it appeared as though Trump’s transparent plan to set up an operation to encircle China would not seduce allies reluctant to be drawn into an American-Chinese Cold War, under the leadership of an electorally challenged and notoriously whimsical President.

    Adding to the general confusion, the British – seeking to boost their post-Brexit role on the international stage – put forward the idea of turning the G7 into the D10 ("D" for "democracy") by permanently adding India, South Korea and Australia to the seven-strong group. While such an idea has its merits – India, for example, was invited to the Biarritz summit – it also has weaknesses: if the goal is to set up an anti-China grouping, South Korea and Australia are unlikely recruits, while the G7’s European members do not follow this line of thinking. Meanwhile, under Modi’s leadership, the credibility of India’s democracy is significantly waning. As such, there is a danger that the D10 would turn out to be a rather dysfunctional group.

    It should be noted that Britain, seeking any credible opportunity to actuate the "Global Britain" concept beloved by Brexiters, had co-signed a joint statement with the United States, Canada and Australia strongly condemning Beijing’s new security legislation on Hong Kong. This was the first time that it distinguished itself from the EU line on a major subject of international politics. What’s more, a few days after Merkel rebuffed Trump, reports emerged of Washington’s decision to withdraw a third of US troops currently stationed in Germany.

    What assessment, however provisional it may be at this time, can be made from this series of events?

    • The Covid-19 crisis marks a further deterioration in transatlantic relations. The G7 affair has added to other episodes that have demonstrated Trump’s extraordinary contempt for "old" Europe, including the suspension of flights from Europe without notice or consultation, attempting to buy a German company working on producing a Covid-19 vaccine, the sudden decision to pull American troops out of Germany and more.

    It is easy to imagine that these episodes are primarily related to the personality of Donald Trump himself. While his chances of re-election in November are currently questionable, a lot can happen between now and then in terms of US policy.

    American President, displeased with his allies, has said that the G7 in its current format is "outdated."

    •  The future of the G7 is more uncertain than ever, although here too it is hard to differentiate the current problems from the factor of Trump himself. The American President, displeased with his allies, has said that the G7 in its current format is "outdated." His ideas are nothing new: the G20 was founded from the existing G7 countries, with the addition of China and other emerging powers. In 2011, with both the G7 and the G20 under the French presidency, President Obama was reluctant to travel to Europe twice for meetings he felt would be redundant in terms of added value.
      If there is a future for the G7, it is likely to involve, if not a new format (adding more members will likely turn it into another G20), at least a creative use of its ability to invite other participants
      (state and non-state actors) on a case-by-case basis, following the example of the French in Biarritz.
       
    • Finally, the British D10 proposal raises an interesting, even crucial issue: the "old powers" must find the means to achieve closer consultation and cooperation with the Asian "counter-models" (counter-models with respect to China and to old industrial economies). More specifically, if Europe is to avoid being marginalized, it must gain credibility in the eyes of a region – South and Southeast Asia – that now generates three-quarters of new global GDP growth. Would that mean aligning itself with the leadership of "English-speaking countries," as London would prefer for obvious reasons? It is doubtful. So, what are the paths – economic, political or even military – that should be followed to achieve European goals?
      This is one of the principal challenges faced by European diplomacy in the aftermath of Covid-19.

     

     

     

    Copyright : SAUL LOEB / AFP

     

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