The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK arrived in Sicily on Friday for a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) most industrialized nations following jarring encounters with US President Donald Trump in Brussels. After Mr. Trump on Thursday lectured European members of NATO about his view that they do not contribute “their fair share” to the defense alliance, signs were that Europeans’ low expectations for the G7 Summit would be met.
“The important thing is we’re talking to each other,” was the dictum of one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s advisers in the run up to the G7 leaders meeting in the pretty seaside town of Taormina. Particularly dear to Ms. Merkel are the issues free trade and climate protection. But whether either would make it into the much-eyed final communiqué on Saturday remained an open question. “We have to see what we can resolve and get done this year.”
A similar level of unanimity on free trade and climate protection would, it seems, be very surprising.
After their experience on Thursday, European leaders now in Sicily would be forgiven if they were even more reserved than that. In Brussels, signs abounded of a US president brusquely throwing his weight around – even a long, white-knuckled handshake between Mr. Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron was seen by some as a test of strength between the still newish US president and the incoming leader of a country the US once dubbed “old Europe.”
Mr. Trump’s concern about the US trade deficit and his much-stated wish to levy a “border tax” on imports seemed alive and kicking in Brussels. According to news site Spiegel Online, the US President on Thursday complained to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk about Germany’s hefty trade surplus and the “millions of cars” German automakers sell each year in the United States.
The atmosphere between European G7 members and the US was burdened further by apparent US leaks about the British police investigation following Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Manchester. With UK security experts up in arms about US media getting hold of information collected by UK police, UK Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly raised British concerns with Mr. Trump, reminding him of the need for safe information exchange.
The Manchester bombing is expected to render a G7 statement about terrorism – a “strong signal,” officials said, sent by the free societies of the Western World that they are united against the terrorists behind the self-styled Islamic State in Syria (ISIS). But a similar level of unanimity on free trade and climate protection would, it seems, be very surprising. Mr. Trump railed against both in his election campaign and his administration has yet to agree a final line.
As a result, German officials expected a less than full-throated communiqué reference to trade – akin to the common line agreed by G7 finance ministers earlier this month, pledging “to strengthen the contribution of trade in our economies.” Officials declined to make any predictions about even the most slender of joint positions on climate protection. “The climate issue will very much depend on how talks [in Taormina] develop,” one said.
For Ms. Merkel, the summit carries additional significance as the next big bash of world leaders will take place on her own turf. In six weeks, leaders of the broader Group of 20 (G20) bloc of leading economies will come together in the northern German city of Hamburg. The key topics – climate change and trade – will be the same then as they are now. Better to start making some progress this weekend, then.