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Giorgia Meloni riding high as G7 begins in Italy

Bernd Riegert (in Bari)
June 12, 2024

Italian PM Giorgia Meloni, strengthened by EU election results, hosts the G7 summit in Puglia. Key topics include Ukraine, Gaza, and migration.

Giorgia Meloni walking onto a stage with flowers in the foreground the colors of the Italian flag
Meloni's right-wing nationalist coalition won in the European elections in Italy by a comfortable marginImage: Alberto Lingria/REUTERS

The right-wing populist Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni heads to the G7 summit strengthened and in a good mood thanks to her party's results in the European parliamentary elections on Sunday. Under Italy's presidency, the "Grande Sette," as the group of the world's seven leading economies is called in Italian, is meeting this week at the luxury Borgo Egnazia hotel in the poorer southern Italian region of Puglia. Meloni was personally involved in many of the details of what she is presenting as "her summit." She wants to show the region from its most beautiful side and underline what is happening there in economic terms, thanks to generous funds that have flowed into Italy via the European Union's pandemic recovery package. Apart from Italy, the G7 comprises the US, Canada, Japan, France, the UK and Germany, as well as the European Union as a nonenumerated member.

Before setting off from Rome, the prime minister said: "I'm proud that we are heading to the G7 and to Europe with the strongest government of all."

Indeed, her counterparts in Western Europe are struggling. French President Emmanuel Macron dissolved his country's parliament and called new elections after his party's catastrophic results in the European elections. If his gamble goes wrong, France could end up with a far-right government in less than a month.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his coalition also suffered a major defeat in the elections, and is caught up in a major debate about the next budget. In the UK, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is predicted to lose the upcoming elections in early July and the Labour party is set to replace the Conservatives in power after more than a decade.

Georgia Meloni raising her hand and a man behind her taking a picture
Giorgia Meloni said that Italy was in a stronger position than other G7 members Image: Remo Casilli/REUTERS

Arms and funds for Ukraine

Meloni, whose right-wing nationalist coalition won in the European elections by a comfortable margin, now wants a significant say in the EU and at the G7. She already has a good relationship with US President Joe Biden, who is running in the US presidential elections later on this year. She is particularly in agreement with him on transatlantic matters and supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russia.

Ukraine will be top of the agenda at the summit of the seven states that are providing most financial and military support to Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will also be attending, appealing for more long-range weapons, ammunition, and air defense capabilities. Scholz has already agreed to help procure these from G7 states and others. Some European countries that have Patriot missile defense systems have been reluctant to supply them to Ukraine.

The G7 members are not united regarding the possibility of deploying Western soldiers in Ukraine. France and the UK have said that they would be open to sending trainers and consultants, while Germany, Italy and the US are vehemently opposed to this. Scholz wants concrete commitments regarding the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war. The plan at the summit is to make available a further $50 billion (ca. 56 billion euros) to Ukraine in the form of a joint loan that would be gradually paid off with the profits from frozen Russian state assets. How to end the war will also be discussed.

Some of the G7 leaders attending the summit in Italy will travel on to Switzerland for an international peace summit organized by Ukraine. Russia will not be participating.

Olaf Scholz (r) shakes hands with Volodymyr Zelenskyy (l)
Olaf Scholz (r) has promised more help to Volodymyr Zelenskyy (l) Image: Annegret Hilse/Reuters/AP/picture alliance

Boosted cooperation with Africa

Another topic on the agenda will be Africa. Meloni wants to focus on better cooperation with the continent, particularly regarding natural resources and energy imports and exports, supply chains and migration management. Twelve guests from African and Indo-Pacific countries have been invited to discuss more investment in Africa and the production of environmentally-friendly energy for Europe in Africa.

There have already been many projects of this kind within the framework of the G7. But what is missing are concrete financial commitments and equal partnerships, said the international non-profit Oxfam ahead of the summit.

In a press release, Oxfam International said that with "funds equivalent to just 2.9% ($35.7 billion) of their combined annual military spending, Group of Seven (G7) countries could help end world hunger and solve the debt crisis in the Global South."

Tobias Hauschild from Oxfam Germany said that "G7 governments manage to invest massively in armaments, but when it comes to stopping hunger, they are suddenly broke."

The development NGO ONE pointed out that the West's financial commitment to Africa had decreased in recent years. Debt, on the other hand, was rising rapidly. In a statement issued ahead of the G7 summit, it said that repayments of debts, also to China increasingly, were beginning to choke certain African states.

More and more, EU states are coupling their aid to African countries with conditions that include help with migration management. The EU has chalked up migration deals with Libya, Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt in an attempt to prevent people from trying to get to the bloc from transit countries. Rights organizations have criticized this approach, saying that the EU is not living up to its responsibilities.

For her part, Meloni has promised that Italy will more or less close its borders to migrants and refugees, and outsource asylum procedures when possible.

The US president recently issued a decree severely restricting the possibility for migrants to apply for asylum on the US' southern border. People can now be deported to Mexico without procedure.

In the EU, some have called for similar measures to secure the bloc's external borders.

Cease-fire in Gaza

The G7 members will also back the US-proposed resolution for a cease-fire in Gaza that has been approved by the United Nations Security Council. A high-ranking diplomat at Borgo Egnazia said that the G7 expected Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Germany, Israel, the US and others, to accept conditions for a cease-fire immediately. The Israeli hostages had to be released and the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza had to end. However, it was not clear whether Israel had agreed to back the resolution.

This article was translated from German.

Italy: Why do people vote for the right?

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union