It was the end of August, a time when vacationers flood the French Riviera and coastal communities to enjoy the good life before heading back to work in September, but merchants in the coastal town of Biarritz, France, were anything but happy. Tourists were not in abundance. The streets were bare, almost like a ghost town, as preparations proceeded for the oncoming G7 Summit Meeting, hosted by France and its dynamic young leader, President Emmanuel Macron.
Surely the onslaught of summit hoards would return a smile to the faces of these merchants, but even the best in pre-planning activities could never anticipate the erratic behavior of one Donald Trump, who had a history of disrupting these affairs with his childish outbursts and demands for the spotlight at all times. And, as if Macron did not have enough to worry about, there was a new attendee, the Prime Minister of the UK, none other than Boris Johnson, who many claimed was a “Mini-Me” version of Donald Trump, complete with wild hair and an extreme right-wing conservative agenda.
Macron, as the host, could shape the agenda, which he did by leading with climate change, inequality, and Iran, when a befuddled Trump demanded that the global economy should be foremost and the only discussion item, perhaps, since his potential re-election in 2020 depended upon good economic news. Then in a typically discordant Trump-ian move, he requested that Russia be allowed back into this exclusive club, a tip of the hat to Vladimir Putin, his new dictator “friend”.
The rest of the G7 was not amused. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, summed up the opinion of the group when he said:
Under no condition can we agree with this logic. The reasons why Russia was dis-invited in 2014 are still valid. It was believed that [Russia] would pursue the path of liberal democracy, rule of law and human rights. Is there anyone among us who can say with full conviction, not out of business calculation, that Russia is on that path?
As for global warming, Trump and his staff objected vehemently, but the group wanted to do something about the deliberate fires that had been set in the Amazon Rain Forest, the reputed “lungs” of the planet Earth. Mr. Macron told reporters from the New York Times that: “There is a real convergence to say:
Let us all reach an agreement to help, as quickly as possible, the countries that are hit by these fires. We must be very clear: While respecting sovereignty, we must have a reforestation objective. What we are working on now is an international mobilization mechanism to more efficiently help these countries, but with them.
A $20 million emergency fund was approved to fight fires.
The real “surprise” at the meeting was that Macron had asked the Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran to be a guest of the meeting. He arrived to much fanfare on Sunday morning, as reporters tried to read between the lines. Trump was irritated, but his reply was:
We’ll do our own outreach. But you know, I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.
Europeans want to keep the dialogue open with Iran, but Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, intervened:
The president has said before that to the extent Iran wants to sit down and negotiate he would not set preconditions to those negotiations.
And then on Sunday the group got down to brass tacks – the discussion of the global economy and Trump’s current tariff wars with China, the EU, and even the UK, although Trump seems disposed to work with his new sidekick, Boris Johnson. Sunday, however, did not start well. Trump was asked if he had regrets at how harshly he had used tariffs against China. Trump’s reply:
Yeah, sure, why not? Might as well. Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.
In a typical 180-degree turnaround, Trump’s White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, quickly announced that:
His answer has been greatly misinterpreted.” She then immediately emailed reporters this note: “President Trump responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”
Observers suspected that Trump had made himself look weak, which is not allowed, but the entire episode was emblematic of negotiations to date on all fronts, not just with China. Trump is determined to do one-off deals with Canada, Central America, Japan, the EU and the UK, not to mention China. As chaos and uncertainty build, the global economy slips.
Boris Johnson, ever the wise politician, was taking note of the landscape and choosing not to offend anyone that might be an adversary across the Brexit negotiating table. Tusk had already quipped before the G7 meeting that:
I still hope that Prime Minister Johnson will not like to go down in history as Mr. No Deal.”
Trump on Sunday added that Johnson was the “right man to deliver Brexit”, but Johnson reiterated that he will have “tough talks ahead”, but he is committed to an October 31 Brexit, deal or no deal.
Johnson is also walking a tightrope with the U.S. on one side and the EU on the other. He is being pressured by Trump to import more U.S. agricultural products, which are deemed below European standards, and the National Health Service could be harmed if U.S. pharmaceutical companies increase prices for their goods to the U.K. He has also promised a better deal with the EU than had been presented by his predecessor, but EU officials are non-committal, claiming there is no time to make changes. At the same time, Johnson must tread lightly with Trump, who is not held in kind regard in Great Britain.
Trump was in a talkative mood, stating that his new deal with the UK was going to be big, much bigger than any other deal. The same was true for his talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. He stated unequivocally that:
We’re working on a very big deal with Japan and we’re very close to getting it. It will be one of the biggest deals we’ve ever made with Japan.
It seems that Trump’s lexicon is limited to big, bigger, and biggest, but he and Abe disagreed totally on how North Korea should be dealt with after testing short-range ballistic weapons, a clear threat to Japan. Trump “shrugged it off”.
And is usually the case with these meetings, protesters were in mass. Per the New York Times:
An elegant resort has turned into an armed camp, as French officials try to head off violent protests.
Just one big happy family at another family meeting. Mr. Macron did not even try to get everyone’s signature on a joint statement, since Trump had refused to sign anything, but then everyone posed Sunday evening for a group picture. Since wives were present, no one chose to spoil that ceremony.
The meetings concluded after dinner on Sunday, exept for Macron’s press conference on Monday. Reporters must now wait for comments to flow after the festivities and attendees have headed for home. At the very least, local merchants no longer must witness “empty cafes, quiet streets and calm beaches”.