The following excerpt is a slightly revised English translation of the Executive Summary of an ISPI in-depth analysis for the Italian Parliament. The complete version of the report is available here (Italian).
Over the last three decades, the G7 agenda has expanded significantly. The government holding the annual presidency, which once focused on a few number of crucial issues mostly centered around the yearly Summit, now needs to set up a remarkably complex organization spanning the full year.
The work of the G7 year under the Italian Presidency is no exception, being structured around 11 ministerial meetings, a number of sherpa and sous-sherpa meetings, workgroups, engagement groups, and many other side events taking place in different Italian cities and regions between March and November. All these meetings contribute in their own way to the success of the main summit, which will gather Heads of State and Government in Taormina on 26-27 May.
Today, the Summit does not only revolve around governments. Other private and public actors, together with the civil society, are also considerably engaged. Like all G7/G8 before this, however, a successful outcome of the Taormina summit will be heavily dependent on the international political context. This is all the more the case, as this year the G7 will be held in a very different environment compared with the Ise-Shima summit that took place exactly twelve months ago.
On the one hand, the fact that Italy holds the G7 Presidency in the same year as Germany chairs the G20 has opened up an important political opportunity for closer collaboration between the two summits. While Germany and Italy have not always seen eye to eye recently, the proximity of the two relevant forums for global governance can certainly be regarded as an added value.
On the other hand, the G7 is faced with unprecedented challenges. Some of the leaders that will gather in Taormina will most likely bring to the table novel (and sometimes disruptive) political positions, while others, constrained by imminent elections, will see their available set of policy choices and political stances severely limited. The novelty and diversity of political positions, and the G7’s timing in the midst of crucial elections (or electoral campaigns), risk the possibility of preventing ambitious steps forward, and may even call into question a number of commitments taken by member countries at previous G7s. On crucial issues such as foreign policy, international trade, climate change, development aid, and gender equality, there is no straightforward common vision among the current G7 governments.
For this reason, the Italian presidency’s main role should be to search for common ground and to foster dialogue among the leaders. At the same time, in less salient but still relevant policy areas, there appears to be room for improvement, in the spirit of collaboration that often characterized past G7 meetings.
Even at such unconventional times, the G7 summit remains a top priority in leaders’ agendas, precisely because it gives them a chance to meet and speak frankly on crucial global issues. Ministerial meetings scattered throughout the year become even more relevant as they allow leaders to negotiate (and often soften) positions that may initially appear as too disparate. In this spirit, the current G7 should not simply aim to agree on a final declaration, but also to serve as a forum where global leaders are able to work together, discuss, and search for common ground in the best conditions.
In this high-risk, high-stakes environment, the Italian presidency has a unique opportunity to reaffirm its role; a role that, as the motto of the Italian G7 goes, should mainly revolve around “building the foundations of renewed trust”.