Leaders of the world’s seven leading industrialised nations will meet in Cornwall this weekend to agree a communique on how to redraw the world post-Covid, but also to pursue their own agendas and try to forge new personal relations after nearly 18 months apart.
1. Joe Biden has restored order, calm and direction to US international alliances, but now has to show what he will do with that goodwill.
Two self-imposed tests for Biden will be to convince Europe he is not a temporary throwback, and to set out a plan to prevent the 21st century being the Chinese century. The overarching goal is to show democracy delivers better.
He has laid out a three-part US plan to end vaccine apartheid, including distributing 80m surplus vaccines, stepping up domestic vaccine production and diversifying vaccine production worldwide. He has also backed, in the face of opposition from the EU and World Bank president David Malpass, the compulsory waiving of intellectual property rights for vaccines at the WTO. The EU regards a legal fight over patents as pointless.
Biden wants the G7 to develop a western alternative to the Chinese belt and road offer, part of the US plan to make the US more competitive with China. In a sign of US political mood the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill spending a quarter trillion dollars over five years in R&D to beat China in the race for technological advantage.
2. With Trump gone, probably any competent chair of this G7 would have been able to revitalise a moribund body, and by good fortune, the task fell to Boris Johnson.
If he pulls off his goals at the summit, he will argue it shows the UK retains its role as a deft problem solver. But much hangs in the balance – a plan to vaccinate the world by the end of next year, new carbon finances, extra cash for girls’ education, a minimum corporation tax and a clearer democratic alliance against autocracy. But words and deeds need matching. Hasta ahora: no surplus vaccines distributed, UK aid budget cut, a chancellor seeking to exempt financial services from the corporation tax and a foreign secretary spending the pre-G7 summit week on a visit to Saudi Arabia.
3. Emmanuel Macron, mercurial, intellectual and restless, faces a threat from the far right in next year’s presidential elections, and a defeat would transform Europe and democratic politics. Polling better than recently, he has been on a tour de France to reconnect with French citizens as the Covid confinement closes. No fan of Johnson, he is quite happy to spar with the UK over the rights of French fishermen, or EU migrants. He will try to put himself at the helm of any plan to boost the flow of vaccines to Africa. France has already promised to send its surplus abroad. He had urged the UK to ask the Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, to speak at the summit.
4. The Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has stepped into the shoes of an internationalist activist Shinzo Abe, who resigned in September. Abe’s cabinet secretary for seven years, Suga will not alter the pillars of Japanese foreign policy, including a free and open Indo-Pacific, but his interests seem more domestic than global. He will be seeking international support for his unpopular decision to press ahead with the Olympics. He will also want pledges to counter a Chinese law that enables its coast guard ships to fire on foreign vessels in waters that Beijing deems its territory.
Japan is a carbon backmarker. In October Japan promised to cut its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, but still relies on coal for almost a third of its electricity, making it the world’s fifth biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. The country’s coal use increased after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with a total 48GW of coal power capacity installed.
5. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, leaves the stage in the autumn after attending 15 G7 summits. She has seen off the threat to the liberal order posed by Donald Trump and so preserved the concept of the west. She would cherish a deal with the US over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that she supports, and which the US says will damage Ukraine and strengthen Russia. With the threat of US sanctions on Germany over the pipeline lifted, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has said Germany has now come to the table on how to protect Ukraine. The German foreign office is heavily backing US plans for EU-US cooperation on the supply of strategically important minerals and raw materials. Overall, she may be uneasy at the US rhetoric towards authoritarian regimes.
Merkel took the commercially convenient view that trade and contact would bring political change. Covid cases are down in Germany and she would like Biden to lift travel restrictions.
6. With Merkel’s departure, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, is to find himself shortly as the unlikely Grand Old Man of the G7. He is due to hold a bilateral with Biden at G7, where he will discuss the issue of Meng Wanzhou, the senior Huawei executive, mounting a legal battle to fight extradition from Canada to the US on fraud charges. She protests it was a political arrest by the Trump administration, but China has imprisoned two Canadians in retaliation. If the US dropped its hardly watertight case the Canadians would surely be released.
The opposition accused him of being too soft on Chinese human rights abuses. His minority administration is heavily in debt and initially slow to the vaccine race, but the appointment of Chrystia Freeland, as finance minister gives him global ballast.
7. Mario Draghi, renowned as the saviour of the collapsing euro with his “whatever it takes” promise in 2014, has been Italian prime minister only since February. He was called to the flag to save Italy from Covid. No stranger to summitry as the former head of the European Central Bank from 2011 a 2019 and former governor of the Italian Central Bank from 2006 a 2011, it is said that even outside office, he was “the only Italian that could call anyone in the world”. His domestic task is to find growth, and keep his six-party coalition afloat until elections scheduled for 2022. But Italy is the current chair of the G20 – its summit is in Rome in October, and whatever the G7 agree, he must bring to this wider forum.