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Research

Thought leadership

What each of the G7 countries wants, and what they need

(8 June 2018)

Angela Merkel wearing headphones

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

The 2018 meeting of the G7 countries promises to be tense due to recent decisions on trade policy by the Trump administration. Dr Dennis Schmidt (SGIA) joins other experts to consider what Germany and other member states hope to get from the summit.

Germany

Dennis Schmidt, Durham University

As Europe’s economic powerhouse and one of the world’s staunchest defenders of multilateralism, Germany has a serious stake in holding the G7 format together. However, after the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement and Paris climate accord and slapped tariffs on its European allies, the delegation from Berlin will be prepared for contentious discussions.

As one of the world’s top three global merchandise exporters, Germany has a vested interest in open markets and free trade. Also high on the agenda for Berlin is the Iranian nuclear deal, which the German government helped negotiate. If German security interests are to be protected, Angela Merkel must rally global support for the agreement while ensuring constructive engagement rather than tension with Washington.

Climate change is another top priority. Germany has one of the most ambitious climate policies of all Western industrialised nations and wants to make sure that the climate targets agreed in Paris are not watered down.

All in all, this will be a difficult summit for Merkel, who has to strike a balance between “good faith” diplomacy and standing her ground when it comes to defending German and European interests.


The US

Natasha Ezrow, University of Essex

The US position at the G7 Summit will be complicated by several different problems, but chief among them is the Trump administration’s radical approach to trade policy.

There are unanimous concerns about the tariffs on steel and aluminium that Washington will impose on several allies, among them Canada, Mexico and the EU. All the other G7 countries are urging the US treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, to consider the impact on the global economy – and instead of working together to deal effectively with China, G7 countries are preparing retaliatory measures against the US.

The US has also pursued a policy of noncooperation on climate change. Some Trump administration officials even decline to use the phrase “climate change” – and instead talk about “environmental resilience”. The administration has made it clear that it is still reviewing its policies on climate change and the Paris Agreement – and claims it’s not yet in a position to join a consensus.

And there’s another hugely unpopular US policy on the agenda: Trump’s decision to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal. This is yet another blow to the G7 countries, many of whom worked hard to implement the deal.

Nevertheless, even these towering issues are overshadowed by the growing possibility of a full-on trade war and the US’s growing isolationism, which could have dire consequences for the entire international order.


Canada

Steve Hewitt, University of Birmingham

Given it is hosting the G7 for the first time since 2010, Canada would have been well-positioned to be at the centre of global attention with an agenda focusing on women and gender equality – but instead, Donald Trump’s “economic nationalist” approach to trade looks set to dominate the agenda. This spells trouble for the Canadian government.

The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and his Liberal government are increasingly exasperated by their experience of dealing with the Trump administration. They have tried to ingratiate themselves with Trump, and worked hard to avoid confrontation and provocation. But, more recently, Ottawa has responded to Trump’s aggressive trade policy with retaliatory tariffs – and Trudeau has given interviews to American media outlets to express his frustration.

The one positive for Trudeau at the G7 is that his government is not alone in its outrage at the Trump administration’s economic policy. The European nations in attendance are equally angry. Nevertheless, Trudeau’s position is inevitably weak. Canada is economically dependent on the US, a country ten times larger – there are more Californians than there are Canadians – and it is therefore highly vulnerable to any further escalation in what could be becoming a full-on trade war.

The temptation for Trudeau is to lead an effort to isolate the US at the G7, an approach that would undoubtedly play well with Canadian voters as the 2019 election looms. But that approach risks riling the Trump administration even more – and if that happened, Canada would be the ultimate loser.


Japan

Ra Mason, University of East Anglia

The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has his work cut out for him. Top of his list are three interrelated challenges. Coming off a bruising few months at home, with his approval ratings sliding in the face of multiple scandals, Abe must reassure his foreign doubters that the future of the US-Japan alliance is secure.

Abe also needs to build the momentum gained from a week of exchanges with the Trump administration about the North Korean issue. He has used that dialogue to assure his electorate that he’s doing all he can to make sure North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens will be on the agenda when Trump and Kim Jong-Un meet for a summit in Singapore on June 12.

The challenge for Abe is to maintain a hard line against Pyongyang without undermining Japan’s most important partner – and to make sure his government doesn’t become isolated in an East Asian community that is increasingly leaning towards engagement with the North Koreans.

Finally, like many of the other leaders in attendance, Abe will want a clear take-away on tariffs. As he tries to ease fears of a potential trade war with the US, he needs a specific goal to aim for – this is his best chance to define it.


The UK

Victoria Honeyman, University of Leeds

The G7 is not a place for formal agreements; any assurances given or deals done there are not strictly enforceable. So for the UK, this year’s G7 is above all a chance to make friends and influence people.

With the Brexit deadline looming, London needs to negotiate clear, mutually beneficial trade deals with all the nations around the table, not least the Americans and the Canadians. By adopting a conciliatory, even benign position at the G7, it may at least be able to cultivate a little good feeling. A little, after all, can go a long way – especially when you are faced with a volatile US president who feels increasingly isolated and attacked.

However, the dilemma is how friendly and conciliatory the British can reasonably be to every nation at once. The Canadians are extremely worried about the US’s protectionist tariff changes. If the UK sides with its historic partner in Washington it will put itself in the firing line. Conversely, should the British government align itself with the other G7 nations, it will surely only antagonise Trump – who is set to visit Britain in July.

Faced with such a delicate line to walk, the British government will probably keep its messaging as uncontentious and evenhanded as possible. It’s always possible that the UK government would decide that one player or another in this trade dispute is so crucial – most likely the US. But that is a worst-case scenario – the British government will mostly be trying to keep on the good side of all the G7 nations, glad-handing at every available opportunity while keeping its head down. What else could it realistically do?


France

Andrew Glencross, Aston University

The twin priorities for French president, Emmanuel Macron, at the G7 will be trade and security – which as far as France is concerned are inextricably linked. Macron sees Trump’s protectionist trade policy not just as a threat to French economic interests, but also as a challenge to established security alliances.

US steel tariffs are merely one part of a broader challenge facing European leaders. Trump has also criticised other countries’ low defence spending relative to NATO’s requirements, and rejected the Iran nuclear deal, which will be policed by punishing French and other companies that do business with Tehran.

Macron is thus fighting a damage control mission on all these fronts by trying to act as a transatlantic go-between based on his personal relationship with the US president. France wants to use the G7 to argue that interlinked policy challenges are best solved in international fora, not by the US acting alone.

Unilateralism, Macron will surely point out, risks undermining global security because it makes other countries hedge their bets. That effect is already visible – Russia is already making trade overtures towards Europe, while Iran is threatening to relaunch its nuclear enrichment programme. The French president needs to convince Trump that backing a rules-based international system is a sure bet, and not an opportunity to strike deals at others’ expense.


Italy

Felia Allum, University of Bath

The G7 summit is the first international outing for Italy’s new coalition government to present its foreign policy on the world stage. That government, which took 89 days to pull together, was formed just in time.

For a while during the coalition negotiations, it seemed that new elections were on the cards – and one of the most pressing concerns was that Italy wouldn’t have a sure-footed government in place during this year’s string of important international summits. That would have greatly diminished Italy’s voice at a crucial time. But while that particular scenario has been avoided, getting on with it now won’t be easy either.

Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, must combine the foreign policy approaches of the government’s two coalition partners: the Northern League, seen as pro-Russia and anti-EU, and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is rethinking its European stance. Long gone are the days of the traditional pro-European Christian Democratic Party, Pro-European Democrat Party, or the ambivalent Forza Italia.

The ConversationWhile the new foreign minister may well be more pro-European, conciliatory and diplomatic than his political sponsors, it is less clear what position Conte will adopt. It won’t be easy for him to be his own person while listening to his political masters, who might seek to monopolise the debate about foreign affairs. So for anyone trying to work out how the new government will behave, the G7 is the first and best chance to take a look.

Dennis R. Schmidt, Research Fellow at the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University Natasha Ezrow, Professor, University of Essex; Andrew Glencross, Senior lecturer, Aston University;; Felia Allum, Senior Lecturer in Italian and Politics, University of Bath; Ra Mason, Lecturer in International Relations and Japanese Foreign Policy, University of East Anglia; Steve Hewitt, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, University of Birmingham, and Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in British Politics, University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. To comment please see the original article.