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.