The new guy? Biden makes his debut in the most exclusive club in democracy
WASHINGTON – Angela, Boris, Emmanuel, Justin, Mario, Yoshihide and a relative newbie: Joe.
You are the board of directors of the most exclusive global democracy club and meet this week after a four year hiatus in the US and a two year hiatus from the coronavirus.
The leaders of the Group of Seven Industrialized Democracies already gather on the basis of the first name with relationships that last only months to years, on Friday in the hope that the departure of their most recalcitrant member and a new era of personal friendships through conversations face to face face to face can restore a global anti-authoritarian consensus on the climate, the coronavirus, China and Russia.
The G-7’s return to polite quasi-normalcy comes as President Joe Biden attempts to reestablish stable U.S. leadership for the bloc crippled by his predecessor Donald Trump’s often confrontational approach to longtime American allies. US officials believe Biden’s decades of foreign policy experience combined with his personal skills and popular demeanor will allay persistent resentment.
Trump had thwarted the unity of the G-7, demanded the absolute priority of US interests, threatened decades-old security guarantees, insulted colleagues and loudly suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin be invited back to the group, even though he refused to Fulfilling demands for Moscow to stay out of Ukraine.
Biden wants to take a new course. When asked about his goals when he left Washington, Biden replied: “Strengthen the alliance and make it clear to Putin and China that Europe and the United States are close and that the G-7 will move.”
Of the seven heads of state or government who will meet in south-west Cornwall on Friday, two are newcomers. Biden and the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi took office within a few weeks this year.
Two others have been in power for two years or less: British Boris Johnson since 2019 and Japanese Yoshihide Suga since 2020. However, the other three share a long history, some of them with Biden from his time in the Senate and Vice President .
Germany’s Angela Merkel will attend her final G-7 summit before resigning as Chancellor in September after 16 years. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been in office since 2015 and French President Emmanuel Macron since 2017. All of them have notoriously had difficult relationships with Trump on trade, defense spending, climate change and other issues.
Trump once accused Trudeau of being “very dishonest and weak” at a G7 summit. He has similarly often denigrated Merkel and Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May and described Macron’s skepticism about NATO capabilities as “evil” and “insulting”. Johnson was the exception as Trump saw him as a related iconoclast.
The open hostility hampered the group’s ability to present a unified front. Biden hopes to calm these ties on his first trip abroad as president.
Since taking office, Biden has only met in person with one of his G-7 colleagues, Suga. But in virtual meetings and phone calls, he has tried to build on his personal connections with the others and has said that he would like more face-to-face meetings.
“There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings,” Biden told Suga when they met at the White House in April. “These personal bonds of friendship and solidarity will keep this alliance strong and alive in the decades to come.”
Good relationships “make business easier,” said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and three-time retired US ambassador.
“You won’t find people acting against their interests just because they’re friends, but it does mean it’s easier to have conversations to see if there are ways to bring interests closer together,” he said.
That didn’t happen in the Trump years. “I feel like we weren’t very interested in exploring ways to compromise – we were interested in getting others to do things our way,” said Neumann.
Because Biden pursued policies identical to Trump’s, he encountered far less resistance than his predecessor and, in particular, won support for the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Just a few weeks before Biden announced that he had decided to generally stick to Trump’s withdrawal plan, the US allies had warned against hasty steps.
Similarly, Biden’s withdrawal of Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada only met a muted reaction from Ottawa amid the new president’s contact with Trudeau. “The United States has no closer friend – no closer friend – than Canada. That’s why you were my first call as President, “Biden told Trudeau.
However, on Wednesday, the Keystone XL sponsor pulled the plug on the project after Canadian officials failed to convince Biden to undo his waiver on the day he took office.
Biden and Macron will meet in person for the first time, and French officials said Macron is keen to build on the discussions they have had over the phone and video. As a centrist, Macron made no concealment that he was counting on Biden’s election to bring the United States’ positions closer to France’s on the Paris Agreement, a global minimum corporate tax, and global security issues.
But perhaps no G7 leader has benefited more than Merkel, the doyenne of the group. Biden put Trump’s decision to reduce the U.S. military presence in Germany on hold and used a national security exemption to avoid sanctions against a German company and its CEO over a controversial pipeline.
“It is a basic foreign policy truth that every country has its own values and interests. But then of course there is also the difficult to measure factor of understanding that can develop between the leaders of two sides – or sometimes does not arise, ”said Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert. “And of course it is better if it develops, if you have a common culture of dialogue, if you listen to each other, if you also try to understand the attitudes and convictions of the other.”
Johnson, meanwhile, is keen that Biden remain committed to Washington-London Comity, especially as he continues to seek preferred post-Brexit trade status with America, which was virtually guaranteed under Trump.
Trump had unequivocally praised Johnson’s and Britain’s exit from the European Union and called him “Britain’s Trump”. As a candidate, Biden had reacted in the same way, describing the British leader as a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump. Still, the UK government has worked hard to overcome this impression, highlighting Johnson’s commonality with Biden on issues such as climate change and his support for international institutions.