Italy prepares to host, and the Pope is about to appear

By Marcos Lowen, Correspondent in Rome

EPA A G7 cake with the words (in Italian) "Welcome to Puglia"EPA

G7 leaders will meet in the Puglia region of southern Italy

Two accommodation options have been shown for this week’s G7 summit in the Puglia region of southern Italy: one, a sumptuous complex of bougainvillea-clad villas and private pools, where Madonna and the Beckhams have spent their holidays , and where singer Justin Timberlake and actress Jessica Biel got married.

The other, a giant ship moored off the coast of Brindisi, full of water leaks and broken air conditioning units that spewed dirt onto the sheets.

The first, the palatial Borgo Egnazia, is home to the leaders of the world’s largest advanced economies, from Joe Biden to Emmanuel Macron, and from Rishi Sunak to Justin Trudeau.

The second was built to house the 2,600 police officers who were in charge of security. Their unions denounced it for having “inhumane” conditions, similar to those on former slave ships.

Reportedly costing the Italian government €6m (£5.07m), it has now been confiscated and a fraud investigation is underway.

Two faces of Italy: the sublime and the poor quality.

Italian EPA Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is pictured holding a bouquet of flowers and standing in front of a sign that says Grazie (thank you in Italian) in Rome, Italy, June 9, 2024.EPA

Giorgia Meloni said her government was strong after her party performed well in last weekend’s European elections.

For Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, it is the first bright face she will present this week, when she receives world leaders, enjoying not only the glorious Italian sun but also her victory in last weekend’s European elections.

Her party, the far-right Brothers of Italy party, to some extent softened under her leadership, achieved a convincing victory, making her the only Western European leader strengthened by the vote.

Among the other guests, French President Macron was resoundingly defeated by the far-right National Rally, which led him to call new parliamentary elections, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz handed his Social Democrats the worst European electoral result in their history. coming in third place. by the far-right AfD.

As for the other G7 leaders, Rishi Sunak is languishing in the polls ahead of the upcoming UK election, as is Justin Trudeau ahead of his election fight in Canada next year; and Joe Biden could be kicked out of the White House in November by Donald Trump.

No wonder Meloni boasted that Italy was going to this summit with “the strongest government ever.”

Reuters US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One as he departs for the G7 summit.Reuters

Joe Biden heads to Italy ahead of his re-election battle this fall

Who would have imagined that the country whose notorious political volatility has given rise to almost 70 governments since World War II would now be seen as the stable country while the others lose their footing?

This unstable situation in many G7 countries is contributing to low expectations among some observers.

“There are two levels to the G7: what is the grand narrative and what are the concrete results, and on both counts it seems like a very unfortunate summit,” says Natalie Tocci, director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs.

By comparison, he says, 2021 marked President Biden’s first G7, in which he recommitted to the multilateral order after the turbulent years of Donald Trump; and in the last two years there has been a clear sense of solidarity in the West following the invasion of Ukraine.

“But now,” warns Tocci, “if anything will come out of this summit it is the fear of a catastrophe that is unfolding before our eyes,” with the urgency of reaching agreements in the face of the possibility that new governments led by Donald Trump in the United States and the extreme right in France.

And what about those summit goals? The most likely is a plan to lend Ukraine $50bn (€46bn; £39bn) of interest on Russian assets frozen in the West.

Some parties, such as the United States, had proposed confiscating all Russian assets, thought to be worth around $300 billion. But that was strongly opposed by others like Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, who argued it could set a dangerous precedent and potentially violate international law.

The new proposal, in which assets are used as collateral for a loan, is likely to be endorsed at this summit, giving cash-starved and war-weary Ukraine another vital lifeline.

EPA Pope Francis greets the faithful during his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, June 12, 2024.EPA

Pope Francis will attend the summit

There will also be sessions on the climate crisis, with participants under pressure to move faster in the transition to renewable energy; in Africa, as Italy spearheads investment projects there, in part to encourage young Africans to stay rather than emigrate, often illegally, to Europe; in the Middle East, after the United Nations approved a US-backed plan for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; and on artificial intelligence, which will be addressed by none other than Pope Francis.

The 87-year-old pontiff has called for global regulation of AI, warning of its danger to ethics and human rights.

It is the first time that a Pope will attend a G7, another blessing for Giorgia Meloni.

Partly to combat criticism that the G7’s permanent members are an exclusive club, a host of other world leaders have been invited, from Brazil to Turkey and from Saudi Arabia to Algeria, with the aim of broadening the global consensus.

It will be the first international summit for India’s Narendra Modi and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa since both lost their majority in recent elections.

man with ice cream

Vincenzo Iannacone has created seven new flavors to commemorate the occasion

And so Italians in this beautiful coastal region will see helicopters arriving and soldiers prowling the streets.

Some, like ice cream maker Vincenzo Iannacone, are proud of Puglia’s temporary elevation to the center of the diplomatic world. He has created seven new flavors in the salon he has owned for 57 years: one for each member of the G7.

They are colorfully named after cities in the region, from Almond de Toritto to Cookie de Messapica, sparking enthusiastic discussions about the summit among his customers, he says.

“I would love for delegations to come and try them,” he tells me. And could you even expect them to be added to the menu at Borgo Egnazia, the leaders’ resort?

“That would be the highlight of my life,” he smiles. “I don’t think it will happen, but never say never.”

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