Memo to Trump: Skip the Next G7 Meeting
Picture seven people talking over lunch about potential ideas to save the world. For the common man, that’s called the pub and would retail at about $200—you need beer to find inspiration, after all. At the G7, the meeting of the seven largest world economies, however, it costs €36.4 million ($40.3 million).
French president Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the event in Biarritz (in the south of France on the Spanish border), had shown great enthusiasm for this year’s prospects. And, as fires burned through the Amazon, no issue had him more energized than climate change. However, one guest was set on disrupting the party. President Trump had already upset his G7 partners with the suggestion that Russia ought to be re-admitted to the meetings. The Russian Federation was excluded after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the ensuing conflict in Ukraine.
And so the G7 talks, as with so many other global gatherings these days, descended into the usual outrage and ridicule over President Trump. This ranged from pre-meeting suggestions that Trump would make the summit difficult and heated to CNN gloating over a brief snap that showed Melania Trump looking at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The only reason time is spent on features covering “body language during the G7” is because there’s nothing else substantial going on. Following French pressure, the G7 did decide on €20 million in aid to Brazil to fight the Amazon rainforest fires—which was quickly refused by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who cited as a reason personal insults by Macron at the last G20 meeting in Japan. Bolsonaro also accused other countries of wanting to exercise control over the Amazon.
Apart from the row over rainforest aid, not much else was achieved. President Macron had flown in an Iranian delegation during the summit to hold surprise talks over renewing commitments for a nuclear deal. The story remains an under-reported diplomatic faux pas: the French president inviting one of America’s biggest adversaries to an international meeting in an effort to renew a deal that the U.S. had already thrown out. That was definitely not according to protocol.
On trade, Trump has allowed himself to be cornered by the Europeans. The ongoing row over France’s digital tax—which specifically targets American tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple—had Trump threatening to impose import duties on French wine. After talks, Macron and Trump announced that an agreement had been reached—Paris would drop its digital tax once an arrangement had been found at the OECD level. Macron has assured the U.S. that the levied amounts will be reimbursed once this happens. Trump’s tariff threats had initially killed a larger EU initiative for a digital tax, after Germany came out in opposition, concerned over its automobile industry.
Trump has shown weakness by accepting this compromise, because he has opened himself up to protectionist tariffs not just by the French but by all 36 OECD members. Even if he gambles on the inability of the OECD to reach a deal, France is still continuing with its own tax. Trump has thus turned his loss into an even bigger defeat. In addition to this miscalculation, the European Union has already announced that any retaliatory tariffs that the U.S. imposes on French wine will be answered by the EU bloc as a whole with new tariffs on American goods.
Trump is a man who reacts according to the occasion and the stage. As a crowd-pleaser, his belief is that to have walked away from the G7 without a deal of some sort would have created another media smackdown like was caused by this picture from the G7 in Canada last year.
In reality, he should treat the entire G7 the same way he treated its sessions on the environment: just don’t go. (With the world’s largest polluter—China—not at the table, what sense does it make anyway?)
Trump should double down on his initial rejection of multilateralism, and negotiate deals and agreements on a bilateral basis, independent of G7 summits. Why should the United States show any interest in maintaining a G7 presence? The body is not rooted in international treaties, it rightfully comes under fire for lacking democratic legitimacy, and it creates more disunity than opportunity.
Here’s a way for Trump to boost his popularity as another election approaches: call off the 2020 G7 in the U.S. and save the American taxpayers some money.
Bill Wirtz comments on European politics and policy in English, French, and German. His work has appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Examiner, CityAM, Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Die Welt.