Macron’s Carolingian Renaissance of the G7

President Emmanuel Macron delivered a major diplomatic speech at the French ambassadors conference at Elysee Palace in Paris, Aug. 27 2019.

India draws satisfaction that the Kashmir issue did not figure in the G7 Leaders’ Declaration issued at Biarritz, France, on August 26. Prime Minister Narendra Mod’s hectic effort canvass with French President Emmanuel Macron at Chateau de Chantilly, north of Paris, on August 22, has had the desired outcome. 

Macron reportedly told Modi that Paris is watching developments in Kashmir closely and urged him to respect the rights of people. Macron said he planned to have a similar dialogue with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, while stressing that it was the responsibility of both India and Pakistan “to avoid any deterioration on the ground that could lead to an escalation.” He added that France would “remain attentive to ensure the interests and rights of the civilian populations are properly taken into account in the territories on both sides of the (Kashmir) cease-fire line.” 

It was a milder version of the US stance — but the caution to New Delhi not to precipitate matters and the reference to “cease-fire line” cannot be missed. The crunch time comes when Delhi fleshes out the changes in the status of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir while also accommodating what Macron called the people’s “interests and rights”.  

Aside Kashmir, the G7 summit had a few takeaways that may make the world a better place. First of all, thanks to the brilliant stewardship of the summit by Macron, the G7 demonstrated a degree of unity and “positive spirt” that was lacking in the last year’s event in Canada when President Donald Trump left for home suddenly and refused to sign the final agreement. 

Trump was again centerstage in a host of G7 issues this weekend and the fact remains that the 2019 G7 summit stands out as the first in the grouping’s history to not issue a joint communiqué. According to Washington Post, France simply gave up on drafting a joint statement for this year’s summit, given how far the US has drifted from the rest of the G7 leaders on a number of issues. However, Trump has been more active at this year’s summit.

A major outcome could be the fallout on the US-China trade war. Most G7 leaders expressed their disquiet that the trade war is hurting their interests and the world economy and should be brought to an end. The G7 is in unison that China’s trade practices are unacceptable, but the question is how to go about addressing it — unilaterally, as the US has done or through the WTO, if need be, by overhauling the body and improving its effectiveness. The Biarritz summit has committed itself to reaching in 2020 an agreement “to simplify regulatory barriers and modernise international taxation within the framework of the OECD.”  

Coupled with the grim reality that the negative impacts of the tariff war are appearing on the US economy finally and may only aggravate further through next year — an important election year for Trump — there is cautious optimism that conditions are propitious for constructive negotiations leading to a US-China deal. 

As regards international security, the G7 summit’s shared positions on the situation around Iran are highly significant. France — and Macron personally — has staged a major diplomatic coup in bridging the gap between Washington and Tehran by creatively distilling two “very clear things that mattered to us: Iran should never have the nuclear weapon, and its situation should not threaten the stability of the region.” (Macron) 

Macron added, “A roadmap has sort of been set…” He disclosed that “in the next few weeks, based on our discussions (with Trump and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani), a meeting may take place between the two leaders, which he estimates “is going to lead to bringing an end to escalation and reaching a suitable solution to this (standoff).” 

The French initiative devolves upon the idea that there might be a need for compensation to Iran in some form to bring it to the negotiating table. Trump gave a tiny peep into what could be in the works when he said, “What he’s (Macron) talking in terms of compensation is they (Iranians)… may need a short term letter of credit or loan… they may need some money to get them over a very rough patch. And if they do need money, certainly. And it would be secured by the oil, which to me is great security and they have a lot of oil, but it’s secured by oil. So we’re really talking about a letter of credit type facility.” 

Trump added, “It would be from numerous countries, in numerous countries. And it comes back. It would expire. It would be paid back immediately and very quickly.” (Transcript)

A Trump-Rouhani meeting is highly likely, possibly during the UNGA session. 

Although overshadowed by Iran, G7’s crisp formulation on Ukraine is no less important — “France and Germany will organise a Normandy format summit in the coming weeks to achieve tangible results.” In the run-up to the summit at Biarritz, Russian President Vladimir Putin had visited France on August 19 where “the possibility of organising a Normandy-format summit was discussed in an expert and quite detailed way,” according to Kremlin spokesmen Dmitry Peskov. 

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s political consolidation in Kiev following his election in April gives us some room to maneuver. The Kremlin foreign-policy aide Yury Ushakov said that the dialogue between Moscow and Paris had “intensified” in recent months and that Putin’s visit to France was the “logical continuation” of his contacts with Macron.

The planned summit of the Normandy format (France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine) is a significant step forward. Interestingly, the French position has been that Russia’s return to the G8 and “fully normalised relations” with the European Union “requires a solution to the Ukraine question.” Trump, on the other hand, is pushing the idea to invite Putin to attend the next G7 summit at Miami. 

Trump said, “A lot of people say having Russia, which is a power, having them inside the room is better than having them outside the room… My inclination is to say yes, they should be in… Would I invite him (Putin)? I would certainly invite him. Whether or not he could come, psychologically, I think that’s a tough thing for him to do. You have a G8, now it’s a G7 and you invite the person that was thrown out, really by President Obama and really because he got outsmarted, President Obama, pure and simple.” 

Biarritz summit may mark the epilogue to Russia’s exclusion from the western club, which has been a legacy of the Barack Obama presidency and which Trump thoroughly disowns. 

With the curtain coming down on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and given Britain’s preoccupations with Brexit, France surges as the voice of Europe. Therefore, it is highly significant that Macron in his speech during the annual French ambassadors conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Aug. 27 — the day after Biarritz summit ended — called on Europe to redefine its relations with Russia. Macron didn’t say whether he wants to lift EU sanctions but said new sanctions “are not in our interest.” He said it’s time to “rethink our relations with Russia,” without elaborating. 

In a broad diplomatic speech, Macron warned that pushing Russia farther away is a “deep strategic error.” He said Europe’s “weaknesses and mistakes” have helped lead Russia to boost its alliance with China.

Clearly, this is not just a matter of resuscitating the G8. This is about a reset of global alignments — with Europe asserting as an independent player. With the marked strengthening of G7 unity and Russia’s return to a G8 format, China remains the odd man out.