August 30, 2019

Results of the Group of Seven Summit

August 24–26, 2019, the G7 summit was held in France


Roman Kot

August 24–26, 2019, the Group of Seven (G7) summit was held in the French city of Biarritz. The previous summit was remembered by growing controversy in the interpretations of world politics by the United States and the vast majority of their G7 counterparts, most clearly captured in the now famous photo taken when agreeing on the joint declaration.

Disagreements over international trade, the Paris (Climate) Agreement and the “nuclear deal” with Iran continued until this year's meeting. Moreover, with regard to the latter point, the situation has worsened: since May 2019, Washington and Tehran have been balancing on the brink of open conflict in the Gulf. However, the balance of power within G7 itself has somewhat changed.


Dispositions of the Parties

The UK now has a new Prime Minister — Boris Johnson, who is still not fully updated on the events. The main focus of his attention will soon be the disengagement with the European Union and finding ways to make the process not very painful for the United Kingdom, as well as concluding a new trade agreement with the United States.

Equally difficult is the situation in Italy. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned just days before the summit. Right now Italians are seeking a way out of the internal political crisis with fuzzy prospects for both G. Conte himself and two Vice Prime Ministers — representatives of the “5 Star Movement” and the “Northern League”, whose actual influence on the Italian politics is greater than that of the head of government.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has focused entirely on the future transfer of power to her successors. It should be reminded that the Chancellor has announced that she will leave the post of the head of the government of Germany in 2021. In view of this, her foreign policy strategy now is to maintain the existing positions and to complete the initiatives such as the “Nord Stream 2”. This automatically means that there is no new initiatives on the part of Germany to address key international problems.

It is worth mentioning the recent changes in the leadership of the European institutions, in particular, of the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission. This is important in the context of this summit, the cadence of the previous head of the European Commission, Donald Tusk, who did participate in the event, ends in October 2019.

President of France Emmanuel Macron, against the background of a temporary decline in Germany's foreign policy activity, is trying to seize leadership in shaping the EU's common foreign and security policy. It is in this vein that the activation of the Quai d'Orsay on the Iranian and Russian directions should be interpreted. Just before the summit, there were meetings of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, and of E. Macron with Russian President V. Putin. As a result of the meetings, they announced the idea of returning Russia to the G7 club.

Changes in the United States' disposition relate first of all to the de facto start of the US presidential campaign. This means that any foreign policy move by President Donald Trump should be seen, among other things, through the lens of preparation for the 2020 election. In reality, this means, first and foremost, the growing degree of populism in his statements and actions.

It should also be noted that Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau has difficult parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2019. His Liberal Party's victory is not guaranteed at all. In this situation, Japan is the only member of G7 whose disposition has not changed significantly since the last summit.

In view of the above, it would be imprudent to expect from the summit in Biarritz any significant breakthroughs on the global agenda.


Disagreements Over Russia

Russian President V. Putin arrived in Paris on the eve of the summit, and for the first time there were voiced publicly intentions to return the Russian Federation into G7. The idea was supported by US President D. Trump, and this made it the most headline making issue among all the issues discussed at the summit.

Although Russia was ruled out from G8 in 2014, the hope to turn the Group of Seven into the Group of Eight again remained. The reasons for this, apart from the European companies' business interests in Russia, are the change of power in Ukraine, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi's intentions to end the military conflict in the Donbas, and the disorganization in the Ukrainian foreign policy, which largely gives grounds for ignoring Kyiv's opinion on the issues related to Ukraine and what they call “fatigue” of Western leaders from the events in the Donbas.

Judging from the information in mass media, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany were sharply against returning Russia into the club without withdrawing Russian troops from the Donbas or at least without establishing a stable peace in the East of Ukraine. Japan's position was traditionally outlined not clearly. The main public lobbyist for returning Russia is the United States, represented by D. Trump, with the unpublic support by France and Italy.

In view of this, the club members agreed that G7 would improve dialogue and coordination with Russia on the current crises, in particular in Syria, Venezuela and Libya, but pointed out that it was premature to turn G7 back into G8. One of the markers that will influence whether Russia's membership is restored, will be a meeting in the Norman format, scheduled for September 2019.

However, even in the case of a negative scenario for Ukraine, where the Kremlin refuses to compromise on the Donbas, they don't exclude the Russians' participation in a somewhat restricted format in the next meeting of G7. Next year, G7 will gather in the USA, where D. Trump, as chairman, will have the right to invite the Russian delegation as a guest. The US President himself stated this during the summit. What prevails in such statements by the US President — real intentions or the desire to annoy his domestic opponents — is unknown so far.


Iran in Search of a Meeting

There have been no breakthroughs on the Iranian direction, however, the mediation efforts of the French President cannot be called fruitless. In addition to the meeting on the eve of the summit, E. Macron invited Iranian Foreign Minister M. J. Zarif. However, according to official information, M. J. Zarif did not meet with the American side, having negotiated only with the French Foreign Minister, J.-I. Le Drian. Although the visit of the Foreign Minister of Iran was not publicly announced, but according to AFP news agency, the USA ware informed in advance and did not object to.

However, as stated by D. Trump at the summit's final press conference, he is open to meeting Iran's President Hassan Rouhani “under the right circumstances”. The French President, for his part, pointed out that negotiations at the G7 summit “created the conditions for a meeting, and at the same time, for a deal between US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani”. He added that he hoped that the meeting could be organized in the near future. At this, E. Macron said that he had already talked on the phone with the President of Iran, and he assured that he was ready to meet “with any political leaders, if it would be in the interests of his country”.


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On the whole, this year's summit of the Group of Seven confirmed again that there is no unity among the leading states of the West, which limits the ability to work out common solutions to key problems of today. As for the officially stated themes for discussion at the summit, the members of the Group of Seven failed to reach unanimity. The final declaration of the summit was on one page with extremely vague and toothless wording on openness in international trade, a desire to prevent Iran from receiving nuclear weapons, and calls for peace in Libya and Hong Kong. In addition, this document confirms the intention to convene a meeting in the Norman format in the near future.

The only specific agreement at the summit was bilateral in nature. I mean the principled agreement between the USA and Japan on trade. Tokyo has agreed to reduce tariffs on American beef and pork to the levels set by the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, while allowing Washington to still maintain the 2.5 % duty on Japanese cars. A corresponding agreement is planned to be signed during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the United States to attend the UN General Assembly this autumn.

All of the above-said, along with the diminishing role of the G7 states in the global economy, calls into question the feasibility of maintaining such a format altogether.