Big expense, but no payoff: For opponents of the Group of Seven summit in Elmau, Bavaria, that was the verdict before any of the heads of state even had arrived on Sunday.
G7 haters will feel vindicated by the mostly noncommittal words from the summit’s final news release: None of the global problems – whether weak growth, debt crisis, refugee emergencies, civil wars, terror, climate protection, hunger, poverty or inequality – are less pressing after two days of brainstorming by world leaders.
The agreements on disease control and women’s rights seem more like well-intended platitudes issued by an outdated round table.
It is a similar situation to the Group of 8 – in case Russia ever returns to the G7 fold. The impression was created in Elmau that a unique opportunity had been missed to reengage with Vladimir Putin.
But discussions with the Kremlin are ongoing – about Ukraine in Minsk or about Syria at the United Nations. There is no shortage of opportunities.
It is in Mr. Putin’s hands to restore the minimum level of trust that would assure him an invitation to next year’s summit in Japan. In any case, the door should remain open.
But it is just as important for Western leaders to resume the dialogue with their own citizens. Both sides now are talking at cross purposes – or not talking at all.
Demonstrators hold heads of state responsible for nearly every woe of mankind. They also dispute the leaders’ legitimacy because they don’t represent the biggest section of humanity, which is becoming more powerful all the time.
This is ridiculous. The G7 leaders should not have restricted their “reaching out” discussions to guests from Africa – they should also have extended them to the demonstrators.
Anyway, there will be much shaking of heads and shrugging of shoulders among most citizens regarding the summit in Elmau. They will compare the meager results with exaggerated expectations and high costs. They will compare the picture postcards of Schloss Elmau with their own everyday existence.
Because the two are not compatible, the impression of an aloof political show is created – one in crass contrast to the problems and hardships spoken about in Elmau.
“Politics is perception, and perception is reality,” goes the old saying. As a matter of urgency, the G7 has to make sure that form and content of future meetings are a better fit. Perhaps then, state leaders can win back the primacy over politics, instead of just being driven by the world’s changes.
Both demonstrators and summit participants were in agreement about one thing in Elmau. The world’s most pressing problems – whether climate change, the refugee crisis, or geopolitical conflicts – can only be solved through international cooperation.
That makes it all the more important that the politicians responsible meet and talk to each other.
Torsten Riecke is Handelsblatt’s international correspondent, reporting on international finance and economic topics. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org