The G7, past and present
G7 Summit

The G7, past and present

The G7 has proven that, despite sharp divides at various points in time, relentless diplomatic work makes a difference – and Italy is determined to go further with its ambitious agenda

Seven years ago, Italy’s G7 Taormina Summit revealed sharp divides across the Atlantic, but also managed to contain them. Donald Trump had been US president for just four months and had already defined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “obsolete” (although he had second thoughts a few months later). He also stated that unilateral trade tariffs were legitimate under the ‘America First’ doctrine and called climate change “a hoax”.

However, Taormina showed how relentless diplomatic work can make a difference. On international trade, the G7 committed “to keep our markets open and to fight protectionism, while standing firm against all unfair trade practices”. Even the rift on climate change, which threatened to leave the summit without a final declaration for the first time, was resolved through a convoluted statement with the US declaring it was “in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change”, and the other members reaffirming “their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement”. Somehow unity appeared preserved.

A different story

This year’s Apulia Summit needs to tell a completely different story – but still one where diplomacy is key. This new world is different for several reasons that go well beyond the presence of a different US president. It will be the 50th annual summit since the first in 1975, and it takes place 10 years after the leaders’ decision to cancel the G8 Sochi Summit due to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. But recent years have been so momentous that the world is barely recognisable – so much so that, although Italy’s G20 Rome Summit in 2021 could still proclaim the universalistic slogan of “People, Planet, Prosperity”, those days already seem long gone.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has brought security back to centre stage for the G7, and Italy’s ‘European’ G7 (after the ‘Asian’ G7 in Hiroshima last year, and before the ‘North American’ one in Canada in 2025) must face the war that continues to stumble on, where the Kremlin seems to have regained the initiative. Moreover, by mid-June, the Israel-Hamas conflict will have been raging for over eight months, with growing risks of regional escalation in the Middle East. Despite the need to tackle many other issues, and find the lowest common denominator for further actions to be taken in the context of Brazil’s G20 summit in November (and other international gatherings), security will inevitably feature prominently.

Thus, at Apulia G7 leaders will make a show of unity. But beneath the surface, divisions and splits between allies will simmer, albeit a far cry from the Trump era. US president Joe Biden’s decision to support domestic production through the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act are still received unfavourably by the European allies. As the US electoral season draws nearer, concessions by the White House appear highly unlikely. So, this unity will probably materialise in the form of an implicit condemnation of unfair trade practices by another country – namely, China.

Italy is shaping the G7 agenda by taking note of the rise of the Global South. Among the government’s priorities, the relationship with developing countries and emerging economies are “central”, as Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has frequently stated. This is why the Italian presidency has invited (among others) India, Brazil and South Africa: three BRICS countries, and also some of the world’s biggest non-G7 democracies. It remains to be seen, however, whether this will lead to better coordination among the G7, the BRICS and the G20, or whether tensions between the Global North and the Global South – and within the two blocs – will hinder dialogue and progress.

Bridging the divide

Finally, Italy is trying to lead in bridging the divide between the West and ‘the rest’, particularly with African countries. Its goal is to include Italy’s Mattei Plan fully in the G7 agenda. The plan was launched in January with a view to enhancing development in Africa in a holistic, structural manner. Italy hopes that all leaders will redouble their efforts towards the continent, avoiding the scenario in which Africa becomes the West’s ‘missing continent’, thus leaving further room for non-Western actors. The Italian government is also eyeing improved partnerships with origin and transit countries in Africa as a means to fight irregular migration, which neared record highs last year. Indeed, the focus on “mutual beneficial partnerships, away from paternalistic or predatory logics”, as Italy describes its Mattei Plan, should be in the G7’s DNA. For decades now, the G7 has explicitly set ambitious targets for development cooperation, periodically lessened the debt burden of poor countries by calling for renegotiations, and pooled (limited) financial resources to tackle climate adaptation and diseases that are endemic in the African continent, such as malaria. Italy’s decision to invite the African Union to the summit and six African countries (including South Africa) is a clear signal of the willingness to seriously engage the continent.

As the summit approaches, it is clear that this ambitious agenda will only serve as a footprint for further action down the road. But refocusing the G7 away from the concerns of a ‘leading West’, capitalising on what the Japanese presidency did in 2023 and striving to go further should be welcomed by all.