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G20: A summit full of contradictions

July 6, 2017

G20 leaders will meet in Hamburg on July 7. There has never been a time when there was more dissent within the group. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this year's hostess, will have a lot on her plate.

G20 Hamburg logo banner
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Heimken

After 12 years in office, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken part in quite a few summit meetings and also hosted some of her own. In 2007, the G8 summit was held in Heiligendamm, a Baltic Sea resort in Germany; in 2015, the G7 summit took place in Elmau, Bavaria. Now Hamburg will serve as the venue for this year's mammoth event. The world's 20 leading rich and developing nations will be attracting far more visitors than usual.

But this is not the only thing that will distinguish the G20 summit in Hamburg from everything that Merkel has had to tackle so far.

"This year, the G20 summit will take place under particularly challenging conditions," the chancellor said. "I will only list the greatest challenges: terrorism, climate change, protectionism - and all of these topics are on the agenda. The world is in a state of unrest; it has become less unified."

Three strong men

The lack of unity is embodied by US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. All three leaders will attend the summit, and it is already clear that each one is pursuing his own agenda. Erdogan would like to take the opportunity to talk to Turks living in Germany, but the German government will not allow him. It remains to be seen whether he will respect the ban.

Trump wants to use the summit as an opportunity to meet Putin in person for the first time. There are many things to be discussed, ranging from the Ukraine crisis to the war in Syria, the sanctions against Russia and the Kremlin's alleged influence in Trump's election. It has been said that US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster wants to take the opportunity in Hamburg to strike up a "constructive relationship" with Russia.

Controversy over climate

But Trump has other ideas about what will be discussed at the G20 summit. He is expected to rail against excess global steel production and also push for restrictions. He will, of course, not budge from his decision to exit the Paris Climate Agreement, as his justification was that he was putting American workers first.

"Since the US announced that it would exit the Paris agreement, we cannot expect any easy talks in Hamburg," Merkel said.

"The disagreement is obvious, and it would be dishonest to cover it up," she added. "I certainly won't do that."

On the other hand, Merkel does not want to isolate Trump. She stressed the talks must "serve the substance and aims of the Paris accord."

She also said that "anyone who thinks that they can solve the problems of this world with isolationism and protectionism is making an enormous mistake."

Business in the spotlight

The challenge is to find a formula that underpins the Paris Agreement without having to take extreme (meaning isolating) positions. Other topics will be easier to discuss, like the joint fight against terrorism, women's policy and health care. Merkel said she is "very optimistic" about that. There is also expected to be little controversy on refugee policy.

Since the G20 summit is the main forum for international economic cooperation, business is obviously high up on the agenda this time around. Free trade will also play an important role. Merkel would like the G20 to send a clear message on the necessity of free markets and multilateral trade systems.

All eyes on Hamburg

The German G20 presidency has also focused on cooperation with Africa. The Compact with Africa initiative aims to attract more public and private investors for projects on the continent, but not replace development aid. The United Nations Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development will also be discussed at the summit.

"Together with our G20 partners, we would like to act as role models, and I would like win over G20 partners, for example, to commit to swiftly reporting on national implementation strategies," said Merkel.

Nearly 5,000 journalists from 65 countries have been accredited for the summit in Hamburg, and the whole world will be watching.

"For the summit, I have set the goal of sending a message of determination with which G20 leaders show that they have acknowledged great responsibility for the world and accepted this responsibility," said Merkel, adding only mutual efforts can move something "more quickly and effectively than would be possible with unilateral action."

Read more: G20: Fun things to know about capitalism's big bash in Hamburg