Europe to turn the Hamburg G20 Summit into a battlefield

Joint Press conference by the European G20 Partners after their preparatory meeting, on 29 June 2017, in Berlin. The meeting took place ahead of the G20 Summit 2017 in Hamburg, which is to take place on 7 and 8 July. From left to right: Jean-Claude Juncker, President European Commission, Paolo Gentiloni, Italian PM, Mariano Rajoy, Spanish PM, Emmanuel Macron, French President, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, Mark Rutte, Dutch PM, Erna Solberg Norwegian PM,  Donald Tusk, President European Council.EU Audiovisual service presse.audiovisuel@consilium.europa.eu..

This week’s G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany is expected to become a battlefield from the very first gathering. Chancellor Angela Merkel is to attack the US President Donald Trump, about his rejection of the Paris Climate Agreement. The American will reply with a demand for ‘free and fair trade’ as he ventures it, especially for steel products. Following the President in his foggy agenda, the US administration is to ask for concerted measures to tackle the problem of excess capacity in global steel production, as if such a thing was feasible. Reportedly, Trump is to threaten the countries which export steel and steel products to the US, with quotas and extra tariffs on the amounts sold above the allowed quantities. In this way, the two main G20 participants, Europe and the US through such statements have already aired their intentions for a full confrontation.

Last Thursday in Berlin, the mainland European leaders who participate in the G20, Germany, France and Italy together with other EU member states such as Holland, held a preparatory meeting ahead of the Hamburg summit. Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister also attended. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, while opening this gathering, made it clear that Europe is to stand by its convictions vis-à-vis the Americans. He said it plainly, “We are determined to protect and even strengthen the rules-based international order. This is why we will speak with one voice at the G20 summit next week”. Let’s take one thing at a time.

One solid European front

Usually, the G20 summits are preordained to show unity amongst world powers, at least in theory. For this to be achieved, real differences are well hidden or altogether omitted from final communiqués. For this reason, the text of conclusions appears rather flat, with most of the content devoted to general character remarks and tautologies. It seems though that this time the Hamburg G20 will be different. For one thing, the European Union, energized by Germany, called a preparatory meeting in Berlin, which unanimously decided to jointly and comprehensively confront the US President on immigration and free trade. They also had a lot to say about China.

In this way, confrontation and frictions are certain to haunt the meetings, and the real differences will overtly be on the table. Reportedly, it’s even possible that this G20 doesn’t produce a final communiqué. At this point it must be mentioned that the participants at the G20 Summits are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union. It goes without saying that only the big powers have a real say in the talks and at the drafting of decisions and communiqués. In any case, the whole edifice of G20 has a tentative character.

The EU sets the background

Tusk has indirectly pointed to this direction. In his introductory remarks in the Berlin meeting, he practically overstepped the G20 platform and referred Europe’s standpoints directly to the UN Security Council. He said “When it comes to migration just one remark: there is already a very ambitious and responsible language proposed by Chancellor Merkel…We could appeal to the other G20 members to consider for example UN sanctions against the smugglers. In order to put smugglers on the UN list we need the UN Security Council members to agree. The G20 format seems to be a good forum to bring it to the table”. The five permanent members of the powerful UN Security Council are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Angela Merkel went even further in setting a background of friction for the G20. Last week, speaking at the German Parliament, the Bundestag, in a clear reference to Trump’s standpoints she said, “Global problems could not be solved with protectionism and isolation”. Then, at the EU preparatory meeting in Berlin, in relation to the talks at the G20, she underlined that “These will not be easy talks…The differences are obvious and it would be wrong to pretend they aren’t there. I simply won’t do this.”

Angela Merkel, the French President Emmanuel Macron, Mark Rutte the Dutch PM and Erna Solberg, speaking after the Berlin meeting, appeared ready to confront the American President with one voice. Of course, they added that they do not wish to isolate Trump, but in reality this is exactly their target. To do this, Merkel was very active contacting other G20 leaders, at the exception of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turk had planned a ‘private appearance’ and a speech in Hamburg, at an audience of his compatriot followers residing there. The event was blocked though by the German authorities on security and sovereignty reasons, enraging the Turkish ‘Sultan’.

Isolating Trump

In her efforts to isolate Trump, Merkel has of course taken special care to contact Moscow and Beijing. A Kremlin announcement confirmed the telephone call between Merkel and the Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to this source the subject matter of their discussion was the basic items of the agenda of the Hamburg summit. It also confirmed that the Paris Climate Agreement was at the center of the conversation.

In the case of China, however, the mood in Berlin was rather somber, also in view of the arrival of President Xi Jinping in Hamburg. Last Thursday, what Merkel had to say about China was rather critical. According to a report by the business weekly Wirtschafts Woche she said that “Europe must work hard to defend its influence and above all to speak with one voice to China. Seen from Beijing, Europe is more like an Asian peninsula. Obviously, we see things differently”. She was referring to aggressive buyouts of European cutting edge technology businesses by Chinese firms.

Jamming Chinese openings

The same source reported her as saying, “if countries like China then want to buy up what has been built with large subsidies, we have to react… We are willing to allow the Chinese to take part [in bids for government contracts] in Europe, but then we want access in the other direction to their procurement”. In this way, Merkel came closer to Macron, who wants the European Commission to acquire control on foreign direct investments in strategic EU industries.

It’s rather difficult, then, to predict what is going to happen in the G20 Summit of Hamburg this week. Surely, though, it won’t be a peaceful one.

 

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