21 September 2019

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ECHO FROM THE PAST?

G7's format irrelevant to global problems and order

Author:

01.09.2019

On August 24-26, a regular summit of the leaders of the G7 countries took place in the French resort city of Biarritz, attended by the heads of the USA, Great Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and Japan, as well as the representatives of the European Commission, presidents of a number of African countries, Indian prime minister, and even representatives of Iran. Decisions of this international club are not binding, although it has always been one of the most anticipated events of the annual global political events. The leaders of the most industrialised democracies gathered in an informal setting to discuss urgent global problems. The meetings have always been known for their special friendly and trusting atmosphere, for which the G7 is often called the Club of the Elect. However, everything goes completely wrong these days, showing that the Group of Seven has been split for the first time since its founding in 1977.

Disagreements concern the main topics of discussions, including trade, environment, urgent political issues, etc. In addition, state leaders sometimes do not understand and accept each other too well. Perhaps it is related to internal political events in each of the member states. So, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was an absolute newcomer in G7. Besides he is so loaded with Brexit that he was hardly seriously interested in anything else. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte arrived to Biarritz at the peak of political crisis in his home country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is about to leave in 2021, does not seem so assertive and "central". French President Emanuel Macron has rather low popularity ratings within his own country. However, the US President Donald Trump became the main indignant of the traditional atmosphere. It all started when Mr. Trump initially did not really want to go to the summit, as he had more important things to do at home. But in fact, and many Western media wrote about this openly, the whole point is that the American leader does not see much point in such meetings, where he is asked many questions that he does not really want to answer. During the previous summit in Quebec, Trump left before its completion, accusing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of trying to "rob" American farmers and refused via Twitter to sign the final document of the summit literally.

Given the circumstances, the host of the 2019 summit, Emmanuel Macron, did a serious preparatory work (for example, an unscheduled pre-summit lunch with Trump) and prudently decided to completely abandon the final communiqué. President Trump appreciated such a gesture and said that this was the “best meeting” between him and Macron. At the same time, he wrote in Twitter the name of his French colleague with an error and mistakenly gave a link to an account that parodies the official website of Macron. Perhaps, the French leader once again realised that trying to predict and prevent possible reactions, statements and behaviour of the current US president is quite difficult. Macron could not in fact predict that Trump would get into quarrel with almost everyone with his unexpected and persistent proposal to return Russia to the club. Moscow was a member of the G7 in 1998-2014, but in June 2014, after the well-known events in Ukraine, the participants of the Seven decided not to go to the next G8 summit in Sochi, but assembled without Russia in Brussels already as G7. However, President Trump expressed his view that the return of Russia would be useful for discussing issues such as Syria and Iran, and did not fail to prick ex-President Barack Obama, noting that he expelled Russia because he was upset at having been outmanoeuvred by his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin. As expected, Trump's idea was not welcomed by his "friends" from the club. Reuters, citing an anonymous official, noted that after that "the conversation became slightly tense." Only the outgoing Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte supported Trump. However, he did not give up and decided that the Russian president should be invited to the next summit as a guest. The Kremlin in response showed restraint, saying that Russia did not object to any form of cooperation, but also hinted that it was not particularly keen to turn the G7 into G8. By the way, it should be noted that the Mr. Macron managed to communicate with Putin just a few days before the summit. He received him on August 19 at the official summer residence of the French presidents, Fort Bregancon, where many interesting statements were made. In particular, the French leader noted that he considers Russia to be part of Europe (as proof of which he quoted an excerpt from Dostoevsky’s novel) and that it is necessary to rebuild the existing relations between Moscow and Brussels. Leading French media regarded the meeting in Bregancon as the fact that Paris is offering Moscow assistance in restoring full relations with Europe. In Biarritz, Germany and France also initiated a new summit on the conflict in Ukraine, where Russia will also be invited, because it is believed that new formats are needed to replace the stalled Normandy format.

Meanwhile, the culmination of Macron's moderating activity on the G7 was an attempt to mediate in the Iran-US negotiations, and so far, even after all the official statements, it is not very clear how successful his plan was. On the second day of the summit, the American delegation was allegedly waiting for a surprise, the unexpected appearance of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Relations between Iran and the US have deteriorated sharply since last year, when Washington withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. In response, Iran stepped up its nuclear program and so far the situation continues to slide into confrontation. There was no dialogue in Biarritz either, as Zarif did not communicate with the Americans, but only with Macron and representatives of German and Britain delegations. President Trump noted that he had refused negotiations, since the time had not yet come for this, but did not exclude that under “appropriate circumstances” he could meet with the President of Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed that Hassan Rouhani is ready to talk with Trump, although Rouhani himself later said that without lifting American sanctions from Iran, no meeting would be meaningful, and its main result would simply be a protocol photograph. Whether the Trump administration will be ready to change its tactics of maximizing pressure on Iran is unclear (it seems, even to the Americans themselves), but at least in the very near future Trump and Rouhani will have a chance of a personal meeting at yet another UN General Assembly, which starts less than in a month.

Nevertheless, Macron completely failed to become an intermediary in matters relating to climate change, which eventually turned into a skirmish between him and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The fires in the Amazon forests seriously bothered Paris. So, Macron first criticised the Brazilian authorities for the lack of zeal to extinguish fires, and then proposed to convene an emergency meeting on this issue and provide assistance. In fact, $22 million collected for Brazil and neighbouring countries to extinguish the fires are called almost the only coordinated decision of the summit leaders, although not everything went smoothly here. Bolsonaro, however, did not like this step of assistance. He stated that Macron does not respect Brazil: “He wants to save the Amazon, as if we were a colony or as if it were nobody’s land. In the end, respect for sovereignty is the minimum that is expected in a civilized world.” Jair Bolsonaru, who is famous for his extravagant statements, was further accused of extreme rudeness after many came to the conclusion that he laughed at the appearance of the wife of the French president. Macron himself called these comments extremely rude and distressing: “He uttered very disrespectful words against my wife. I have great respect for the people of Brazil and I hope that this country will soon have a president ready to fulfil his duties." The press service of the President of Brazil declined to comment on the incident.

Remarkably, Trump, who previously pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, was simply absent during the discussion of environmental issues, which showed that he considered all the ongoing conversations and measures taken frivolous. At the final conference, he was nevertheless asked what he thinks he would do to solve climate problems, Trump decided to praise the growth of the American oil and gas industry. He is more interested in economic and trade issues such as interest rates, duties, trade wars (especially with China). According to observers, the American delegation in Biarritz even reproached the organisers of the meeting for deliberately deciding to avoid the acute problems of the global economy, and such issues were ultimately raised only at the insistence of the US. The trade war between the US and China was indeed not on the official agenda of the summit, although it may, and already has truly global implications. On the other hand, climate problems may very well turn into the main global concern in the near future. UN Secretary General António Guterres at the G7 Summit declared a “climate emergency” on the planet. The reasons are quite obvious. The years 2015-2019 are likely to become the hottest years in the history of meteorological observations. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the highest level in the history of mankind, the glaciers of Greenland are rapidly melting, and forests burn in Siberia, Alaska and the Amazon, which leads to even greater emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Therefore, looking at the entire agenda of the recent G7 summit and analysing the dialogue of member states, it becomes clear that the existing format of G7 is no longer relevant to keep up with global problems and order. Presidents make statements through their social accounts faster than their assistants can keep track of them. The most important principles of negotiating, concluding treaties and alliances, waging wars and other things are being reviewed (and sometimes not entirely by professionals), even such seemingly unshakable pillars of the Western world as liberalism are being questioned. Therefore, the club, where seven polite gentlemen (and sometimes ladies) slowly discuss politics and economics over delicious dishes from Michelin chefs, already seems to be a relic of the past. The world is increasingly moving towards multipolarity. It is not surprising perhaps that in recent years the role of another, wider format, the G-20, has grown significantly, including China as the second, if not the first economy of the world, as well as such large economies as India, South Korea, Indonesia and Russia, without which it is difficult to solve many issues of world politics, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are the most important states of the Middle East, the countries of Latin America and South Africa. It seems that the G7 leaders failed to say something coherent about the world looking out of a small window in Biarritz.



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