Aug 22, 2019 - Politics & Policy

G7 summit: Leaders flash baggage en route to Biarritz

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Little sunshine is expected when the leaders of most of the world's major economic powers gather this weekend in the French seaside town of Biarritz.

The big picture: With President Trump reprising his role as disrupter-in-chief and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson arriving aboard a runaway Brexit train, there's little the leaders of the G7 countries agree on. So little, in fact, that the host has already warned that there won't be a joint statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron said it would be "pointless" given the differences between Trump and the other participants on climate change and other issues. Besides, "no one reads the communiqués, let's be honest," he quipped.

  • Macron is less dismissive of the nationalist surge around the world and within the exclusive G7 club. He warned this week of conjoined crises of democracy and capitalism, and said the deepening U.S.-China rivalry could make “vassals” of the rest of the world.
  • A central player in Europe and on the world stage, Macron cuts a less formidable figure at home, where his approval rating sits at 27%. 
  • Other participants have deeper worries still.

The guest list...

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in France early, as part of his "do or die" mission to pull the U.K. out of the EU by Oct. 31.

  • With Johnson insisting on major changes to the divorce deal his predecessor negotiated, and Macron and other EU leaders holding firm, the course seems to be set for a dramatic "no deal" split.
  • That could lead to a constitutional crisis, or the premature end of Johnson's premiership. For now, he claims to want a new deal ahead of the deadline — but Macron was unwilling to offer a lifeline.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is no stranger to international summits, but she enters this one as something of a lame duck and with an economy that's sputtering ominously. She's said she'll step aside by 2021.

  • Constanze Stelzenmüller of Brookings tells me that despite Germany's uncertain political future, talk of Merkel as a diminished figure is premature.
  • "You can see it in Boris Johnson's efforts to develop a good relationship with her," she says. "It's still the case that Germany is seen as a major player in Europe and that Merkel is seen as someone whom you need to have on your side."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may beat Merkel out the door.

Shinzo Abe is poised to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister this fall and was buoyed by election results last month.

  • But Japan's feud is escalating with South Korea, which announced today that it will sever an intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo despite U.S. efforts to mediate between its key East Asian allies.

For Italy's Giuseppe Conte, this is more goodbye than hello (though the versatility of "ciao" may mask the difference). 

  • He resigned Tuesday amid a breakdown in Italy's populist ruling coalition.

As for Trump, attacking Denmark over a "nasty" message that Greenland isn't for sale, and suggesting Russia be invited back into the G7, may just be a prelude to the weekend's festivities.

  • Trump left last year's summit early with a parting shot at its host, the "dishonest and weak" Trudeau.

The bottom line: From Macron's perspective at least, as the FT's Ed Luce writes, anything short of disaster in Biarritz might count as a victory.

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