No progress was made at the meeting of the G7, the first attended in Europe by President Donald Trump. In fact, the summit of the seven countries took a few steps backward and the climate of suspicions and misunderstandings between the European members, Japan and Canada on one side and the United States on the other became, if anything, deeper.
The European partners tried their best to avoid presenting the image of the American “big brother” estranged from the rest of the Western family. Trump, however, appeared bored and uninterested in issuing a face-saving final document. It was not lost on the participants that when the Italian prime minister spoke to wrap up the meeting, Trump did not wear the head phones to listen. To his credit, Trump tried hard not to go to sleep during the official concert of the La Scala symphony.
From an American leader so obsessed by the idea of closing the borders of the United States to immigrants from Middle Eastern countries and other places ravaged by war, Trump did not seem to care about the impassioned cry from the prime minister of Italy, a country overrun by migrants coming in large numbers on a perilous voyage from Libya. In the past three years, more than half a million have landed in Italy; 4,400 have died en route.
Half a million refugees are about to embark on the flimsy rubber dinghies filled to the brim by the human traffickers in Libya. The only item on which Trump was ready to go along with was the Taormina Joint Declaration on combating terrorism. Nothing new there, nothing truly cooperative, except a pledge to combat the misuse of the internet by the terrorists and a message of solidarity with the British government after the Manchester attack.
As far as the economy goes, Trump did not hide his antipathy toward the German Chancellor Merkel, to whom he had not extended his hand while sitting with her in the oval office. It was reported that his disagreement went as far as calling the Germans “bad” because of their surplus. While it is true that the German surplus has been condemned by other European countries, there was something of implicit personal rudeness in the way that Trump dealt with Angela Merkel. It is also true that a number of NATO member countries do not devote to the alliance the full share of GNP that is called for by agreements, but the stern tirade by President Trump on this subject was nonetheless grating to the Europeans.
Things did not go better with the new young president of France, Emmanuel Macron, who has been passionately trying to keep alive the climate treaty signed in Paris, an agreement that Trump openly distrusts to the point that during the electoral campaign he described man-made climate change as a “hoax.” Macron is a believer in European unity and the son of the French establishment while the American president is fundamentally a protectionist and the enemy of the establishment that, in his mind, is the image of the Democratic Party. There are many leaders in Europe who are now coming to the conclusion that Trump is hardly devoted to European unity but would rather see Europe as a loose grouping of countries that are dependent and submissive to America. It is unfortunately remarkable that the American president did not feel the obligation to restate the principle of article five of the NATO on mutual defense, and that it was left to his national security adviser McMaster to do so. Significantly, all of this happened right after Trump went to great lengths to revitalize the Arab allies in the Persian Gulf.
In short, Trump made no concessions about climate change or the urgency to find a common ground regarding the hordes of migrants. If his governing style sticks to the pattern of being unpredictable, the Europeans have learned the lesson, just like a mass of Americans. It appeared obvious that the Europeans were in no mood to appeal to President Trump’s ego and this explains his lack of patience for listening to other leaders when they spoke.
In sum, Trump behaved as no previous American leader of the free world ever had. In particular, he paid no attention to the inspired words of the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, who said: “The glue that holds together Europe and America is the sharing of values and principles.” Sadly, the outcome of the Taormina G7 meeting is that the European governments and the Trump administration do not share a common view of those basic values. Some European commentators went even farther, by associating the persona of Trump with the “ugly American.” They pointed out that while the European leaders walked the quaint streets of Taormina, Trump followed in a golf cart, not quite the leader that Europe is ready to recognize.