The 43rd G7 summit that got underway in Italy on May 26 could prove to be the most difficult in years, but this has not discouraged European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk. Both men appeared positive about the summit’s impact to EU-US relations.
Held just one day following the two EU leaders’ first meeting with US President Donald Trump in Brussels, the summit in Italy could result in a breakthrough or end in disaster.
“There is no doubt,” Tusk told a press briefing ahead of the two-day summit in Taormina, a popular summer resort town on the east coast of Sicily. “This will be the most difficult G7 summit regarding the issues we face,” he added.
But since four of the seven leaders are new at the table, the EU leaders’ experience in talks on this level could prove handy. They could steer the talks on the issues that both sides of the Atlantic are more likely to agree on.
One of these issues is the global terror threat. Tusk said he believed a common position could be found with the US on combating terrorism and addressing other world crises in the Ukraine, Syria and North Korea.
“I believe terrorism and ISIS [Islamic State] are the main topics that unite Europe and the US, and I appreciate the tough stance Trump has so far shown,” said Tusk on May 26. “I agree with Trump that we must be tough against terrorism. I believe the EU and the US will have a common policy on sanctions towards Russia, too.”
Trump’s issues with German trade
Following Trump’s May 25 meeting at the European Council, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported that Trump described the Germans as “bad, very bad”.
Juncker, on the other hand, suggested that the alleged comment attributed to Trump had been mistranslated. However, the Commission president confirmed that the issue of Germany’s large trade surplus with the US in the automobile sector was raised.
“I don’t want to comment, but I have to,” said Juncker. “It is not true the president was aggressive in his approach. This a translation problem,” he added. “He did not say the Germans were behaving badly. He said we have a problem. It was not aggressive.”
Trump’s controversial comment is also being downplayed on the other side of the Atlantic. Gary Cohn, president Trump’s economic advisor, explained: “[Trump] said they’re very bad on trade, but he doesn’t have a problem with Germany.”
“I don’t have a problem with Germany, I have a problem with German trade,” concluded Cohn quoting the US president.
Difficult talks on climate change
Even if Juncker and Tusk did not appear pessimistic in front of the press, the big points of difference between the new US president and the rest of the G7 leaders remain. One example is Trump’s threat to quit the 2015 Paris Agreement is still on the table.
On trade, one EU official told New Europe that the EU and the US agreed to set up a working group that could allow both sides to resume talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations ended at the end of former US president Barack Obama’s administration.
“The idea is to discuss a number of trade issues and not only TTIP,” said the EU official, adding that it is very important to continue talks.
As for the EU strategy on this – to set up the working group on trade, the Commission is expected to emphasize the transactional nature of trade.
After all, Juncker’s trade and development adviser Leon Delvaux is expected to take part at the working group. Together with Berlaymont’s trade experts, he will bring to the table his experience of concluding the EU-Canada CETA trade agreement, which had been strongly opposed by the Belgian regional Parliament of Wallonia.
‘Brexit is an incident, not a threat, and Trump also has agreed on this’
On Brexit, Tusk downplayed concerns on EU-US ties. He said: “Brexit is an incident, not a threat, and Trump also has agreed on this”. He also said that Trump recognised that the EU-27 is more united.