G7 leaders head to Alpine retreat under storm clouds of Ukraine war

Three-day summit in Germany will test West's ability to tackle fallout from Russian invasion

An AS 332 Super Puma helicopter from Germany's Bundespolizei flies over Schloss Elmau, during flight and security training for the upcoming G7 leaders summit, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Reuters
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Leaders of the G7 countries will meet on Sunday facing some of their most formidable challenges in years, with the world looking to the club of rich democracies to master the crisis in Ukraine and its associated food and energy problems, while also leading the way on global health and climate change.

The three-day summit at Schloss Elmau, a castle retreat in the Bavarian Alps, will bring together the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, the US, Canada and Japan at a time of war, rising inflation and growing pressure to protect the planet.

The Americans say they will come to the talks with a plan to tighten the squeeze on Russia, while summit host Germany wants to turn a new page in the fight against climate change and sign off a pact to prevent pandemics.

“The answer to the climate crisis and Putin’s war, financed through fossil fuel exports, is the same: ending the use of gas, oil and coal as quickly as possible,” said Martin Kaiser, the head of Greenpeace in Germany.

Food security will be another central theme, with western leaders anxious not to let Russia's narrative take hold that they are to blame for an emerging hunger crisis.

But every leader has domestic politics to think about too. Germany’s Olaf Scholz has lost popularity over his hesitant handling of the war in Ukraine, while Britain’s Boris Johnson could do with a distraction from his precarious position at home.

The worst-kept secret of G7 summits is that drafts of the final communique have already been written and negotiated by diplomats, along with standalone pronouncements on other key issues, such as Ukraine.

Still, every leader has a case to make and their decisions will shape the West’s response to the crises at hand — and pave the way for the wider world to pick up the torch at G20 and UN climate summits later this year.

Police officers stop cars at a checkpoint near Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany, ahead of the start of the G7 Summit in Elmau. AFP

Olaf Scholz, German chancellor

Mr Scholz’s government came to office in December promising a focus on climate and social justice, both at home and in the G7, but the crisis in Ukraine has overshadowed his first few months in office.

Hosting the summit will give Mr Scholz a chance to show leadership that critics say has been lacking during the war. It is the first such summit since 2005 at which former German chancellor Angela Merkel will not be present.

Mr Scholz wants to use the summit to strengthen the effect of sanctions on Russia, look at ways to export grain from Ukraine’s blockaded ports and increase co-operation on energy.

Beyond Ukraine, Mr Scholz’s big pitch to the G7 is the formation of what he calls a “climate club”, a coalition of the willing that could drive global action for which it would be hard to find consensus in the G20 or the UN.

Joe Biden, US president

The White House credits Mr Biden with revitalising the G7 as a forum for global leadership after the stormy environment of the Donald Trump years.

The US president is expected to “roll out a concrete set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia”, an administration official said, and address the rising food and energy prices damaging his prospects at midterm elections.

Mr Biden is also seeking to put flesh on the bones of a global infrastructure initiative discussed at last year’s summit, with more specific announcements expected in Germany.

Meanwhile, US officials expect concerns about China’s behaviour to feature more prominently in the talks, after last year’s communique referred briefly to worries about its trade practices and human rights record.

US President Joe Biden wants to increase pressure on Russia over the war in Ukraine. AP

Boris Johnson, UK prime minister

Mr Johnson’s travel to Germany, sandwiched between visits to Rwanda and Spain for separate summits, takes him out of the political heat of Westminster after a pair of by-election defeats added to his domestic woes.

His strong pro-Ukraine stance on the international stage has won him some respite from those problems, with Mr Johnson keen to use any opportunity to show support for Kyiv and project British leadership after Brexit.

At the G7 he will push countries, including France and Germany, which have sought to keep the door open to diplomacy with Russia, that Ukraine should not be encouraged to “settle for a bad peace”.

“Our message will be clear: we must unite to do everything we can to support Ukraine for the long term,” Mr Johnson said before setting off for his travels.

Emmanuel Macron, French president

Mr Macron arrives in the wake of a parliamentary election result that weakened his authority in the domestic sphere, making foreign policy perhaps his main area of influence for the next five years.

Ever keen to push for European leadership, he is expected to get behind Germany’s efforts on global food security and climate change.

But he has shown more interest in revamping the European Union and reducing its dependence on other powers, such as the US, than in spearheading action via the G7.

On Ukraine, he received a veiled rebuke from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his calls to avoid burning bridges with Russia, but later stressed it was up to Kyiv to decide the terms of any peace.

French President Emmanuel Macron retains broad foreign policy powers despite losing his parliamentary majority. AFP

Mario Draghi, Italian prime minister

Mr Draghi, who visited Kyiv with Mr Scholz and Mr Macron last week, says Italy’s strategy on the war is aimed at supporting Ukraine so that Russia is forced back to the negotiating table.

He told MPs before setting off to this week’s summits that Italy would keep pushing for a diplomatic solution, while stressing that any such peace would be “under the terms to be chosen by Ukraine”.

Countries and donors should pool their efforts to finance Ukraine’s reconstruction after cities were reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment, he said.

His appeal to parliament came after the populist Five Star Movement, the largest group of MPs, split over the war in a move that risked destabilising Mr Draghi's fragile coalition.

Italy's Mario Draghi has promised to support Ukraine's reconstruction after the war. Bloomberg

Justin Trudeau, Canadian prime minister

Mr Trudeau’s priorities at the G7 include helping Ukrainians displaced by the war. Canada has a large Ukrainian community dating back to waves of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Like other leaders, Mr Trudeau is under pressure at home because of rising prices and said he wants to use the week of summitry to make life more affordable for people.

He also wants to use his meetings to promote clean energy and continue the push to distribute coronavirus vaccines.

“When the world comes together to address the challenges of our time, we achieve the best outcomes for people,” he said.

Canadian Prime Minister was at the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda before travelling to the G7. AFP

Fumio Kishida, Japanese prime minister

Japan has won praise from western allies for joining in sanctions on Russia despite the war in Ukraine playing out a long way away from its shores.

Mr Kishida wants to see America take a similar interest in the Indo-Pacific region and said he will “lobby relentlessly” for the US to rethink its position on a trade deal abandoned by Mr Trump.

Japan will also have an eye on its G7 agenda next year, when it will inherit the group’s rotating presidency from Germany.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has taken a firm line on Ukraine since Russia invaded. Getty
Updated: June 25, 2022, 7:43 AM