G7: Italy puts itself in the right light

By Deutsche Welle (Europe) | Created at 2024-06-15 20:00:52 | Updated at 2024-07-21 20:37:56 1 month ago
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"The timetable was extremely flexible, but the food was exceptionally good," said one European diplomat, describing the rather spontaneous organization of the annual G7 summit by the Italian hosts in the luxurious hotel complex of Borgo Egnazia in the southern Puglia region.

But schedule delays, waiting for shuttle buses and security checkpoints are just part of such meetings for the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations: The United States, Canada, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.

The consultation program was packed for their leaders, along with twelve other representatives from countries such as India, Brazil and Turkey, along with the United Nations Secretary General and Pope Francis. Both the pontiff and US President Joe Biden were in high demand, in addition to the multiple bilateral meetings in a relaxed setting that are so important to such summits.

The 20 guests at the Borgo Egnazia luxury hotel during the G7 summitThe 20 guests at the Borgo Egnazia luxury hotel: Italy's prime minister wanted the atmosphere to be as informal as possible, even for the Pope's visitImage: Ciro Fusco/ZUMA Press/IMAGO

The obligatory summit declaration, on the other hand, is 36 pages long and contains a long list of political declarations of intent on every conceivable crisis area and policy field, from climate protection and the digitalization of the economy to higher taxes for the rich.

Meloni's personal project

Host and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made the three-day summit in southern Italy her personal project. She made no secret of the fact that she wanted to show that her partly far-right government can be open-minded, despite her nationalist agenda.

"The G7 is not a fortress closed off to others which perhaps has to defend itself in some way; it embodies values that we open up to the world in order to foster shared development," said the leader of the Brothers of Italy party in her opening speech.

Meloni was the sole European summit participant to achieve a victory for her governing coalition in the European elections last Sunday, and her confidence showed in Borgo Egnazia. She now wants a decisive say in appointments to posts in the EU and the European Parliament in Brussels next week. Italy will be a key part of shaping Europe, promised Meloni, who has been in office since 2022 and leads the right-wing nationalist European party alliance EKR.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to the press as the G7 concludes on June 15German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to the press as the G7 concludes on June 15Image: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

Scholz cites good cooperation

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a center-left Social Democrat whose party lost big in the European elections, made a clear distinction between state business and party politics.

"We also work together in the European Council; the European governments must all cooperate with each other. This has worked well in the past and has also been demonstrated here," he told German broadcaster ARD. "Every country makes its own decisions about how it wants to be governed. But at the same time, there are issues where we differ."

He added that he disagrees with Meloni on questions of democracy and the protection of minorities, because it must be possible for everyone to be happy in their own way, as befits a liberal democracy.

On to Brussels

On the fringes of the G7 summit, Meloni, Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron held an informal "job interview" with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She is also part of the G7 and wants to remain in her role, but needs to be nominated by the EU heads of state and government and a majority of the EU Parliament, which has now shifted slightly to the right after the elections.

As a conservative Christian Democrat, she could be dependent on the votes of the right-wing nationalists. As such, von der Leyen praised Meloni as a "true European." And, at least on the EU stage, Meloni has indeed been quite moderate, expressing her support for Ukraine, unlike other nationalist and far-right politicians in Europe, who sympathize with Russia.

Russia's war against Ukraine was the summit's main topic, with leaders pledging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a $50 billion loan. For the first time, such a loan will be financed with the interest on Russian assets frozen by EU sanctions. Zelenskyy called the pledge historic, saying that the G7 had signaled to Moscow that Russia would now have to pay for the destruction and suffering caused by its attack on Ukraine. The Kremlin issued a furious response.

Scholz said Ukraine had been strengthened by the G7 summit: "This is a sign to Ukraine that it can rely on us and to Putin that he cannot expect our support to wane."

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and US President Biden sign their security agreementUkrainian President Zelenskyy and US President Biden sign their security agreement, the future of which depends on the US election outcome in NovemberImage: Alessandro Garofalo/REUTERS

US President Biden also signed a long-term security agreement with his Ukrainian counterpart in Italy. Arms deliveries, the establishment of a joint defense industry and financial aid are to take place even if the Russia-friendly Republican Donald Trump returns to the White House after the US elections in November. But Donald Trump, who has already announced that he aims to get American aid back from Europe, could still terminate the agreement, which is not binding under international law.

Ukraine eyes NATO and EU

Zelenskyy nevertheless sees the agreement as another step towards Ukraine's promised membership to the Western military alliance NATO, though this is unlikely to happen until after the war ends.

G7 leaders take aim at Russia and its allies

The path to joining the European Union could be quicker. The EU agreed on Friday night to begin concrete accession negotiations with Ukraine and its tiny neighbor Moldova on June 25. It remains unclear how long the typically lengthy process could take for Ukraine. While it only applied for membership two years ago, the threat from Russia has fast-tracked efforts on all sides. 

The G7 leaders did not however succeed in persuading Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modito adjust their pro-Russian sentiments.

The participants also threatened sanctions against China, which was not represented at the summit, if it refuses to stop supplying Russia with weapons-grade components and financing the war economy through Chinese banks. They additionally called on China to reduce its subsidies for export goods, a practice for which the US has already imposed sanctions. The EU is currently threatening to follow suit in the electric vehicles market, though such measures remain controversial.

This article was originally written in German.

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