The unseen tensions at the G-7

President Joe Biden is in Europe on his first big trip, starting today with the G-7 summit, and we’ve got reporters stationed in six of the G-7 countries (plus Brussels) following every move. For the next five days, I’m going to be your host, interviewing POLITICO reporters on both sides of the pond on the most important issues, the contentious policy, the inside gossip, the bureaucratic nightmares of staging a pandemic gathering, and everything in between.

Join us for a roundup to start each morning, and takeaways in the afternoon to wrap the day’s events.

The U.S. wants pragmatic engagement from Europe — after working for months to reset the tone of the trans-Atlantic relationship — to present a united front to Russia and China. European leaders have welcomed Biden’s spirit of multilateral engagement: but stark policy differences remain. European diplomats and officials tell us that they’re skeptical of a bipartisan U.S. commitment to a stable and roughly equal trans-Atlantic relationship.

So, here’s what’s on tap for Friday in Cornwall: Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson will push for the group to collectively donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to developing countries. In the same spirit, Johnson will push for a “climate Marshall Plan” along with broader efforts towards a global economic recovery that reduces inequality. China is about to find out that when you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

Speaking of menus: leaders will be served velvet crab, Dover sole, haggis mousse and pineapple weed (think wild chamomile) by Ugly Butterfly, a service that makes use of discarded food to reduce waste.

A note from the pews: Journalists have found the summit organization to be unusually cumbersome — much of it due to Covid complications, some of it due to cicadas — a Cornwall hotel housing journalists is even shutting down after a Covid outbreak.

Don’t worry: we’ve got you covered.

Everyone’s smiling, and Jill Biden literally wore her “LOVE” for Europe, but what are the unseen tensions as leaders arrive in Cornwall to kick-off three days of G-7?

Anita Kumar

White House Correspondent & Associate Editor

Biden is eager for the U.S. to reclaim the mantle of leadership in the world but he will find that much has changed in the last four years. Other countries, primarily European allies, including Britain, France and Germany, have attempted to fill the void the U.S. left on a variety of issues, from holding Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check to combating climate change, and they may not be eager to relinquish that power.

Pauline de Saint Remy

Paris Playbook Author

Emmanuel Macron has no intention of relinquishing the role he played when Trump was in power: holding up the walls of a multilateral system abandoned by the United States. During a press conference at the Elysée Palace yesterday, he showed that the trauma of the Trump years is still there, and Europe still intends to guard against the vagaries of American moods.

David Herszenhorn

Chief Brussels Correspondent

Publicly, European leaders applauded Biden’s move to make America’s global reputation great again, but they also bristled given that for more than a year, the U.S. effectively prohibited exports of vaccines as it worked to inoculate its own population. The EU’s Ursula von der Leyen used a press conference to repeatedly tout how the EU had served as the world’s major exporter of vaccines, and called Biden’s vaccine donation announcement “potential.”

Esther Webber

Senior U.K. Correspondent

Biden and Boris Johnson were denied the total love-in they’d tried to tee up after The Times of London reported Washington’s most senior diplomat in London summoned a U.K. minister earlier this month to offer a rebuke over the U.K.’s handling of the Northern Ireland protocol. In public Biden played nice over Brexit,

Stuart Lau

EU-China Correspondent

China is the elephant in the room. Biden wants a tough and united front, but the French government wants Europe to craft its own China policy in the spirit of “strategic autonomy” instead of following the U.S. lead. Angela Merkel is less interested in calling out Beijing’s human rights violations than ramping up car sales. But Beijing has rocked a once positive vibe with Europe by sanctioning European parliamentarians.

How will we know if Biden’s having a good summit?

Nahal Toosi

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Biden is an old hand at summitry, and the fact that he’s starting off by seeing a bunch of allies before heading to meet with Russian leader Vladimir Putin is by design. Partly it’ll warm him up ahead of the Putin meeting, but also it’s a diplomatic show of force by democracies toward China and Russia. If you see Biden laughing, patting people on shoulders and nodding along with smiles, it means he’s feeling pretty good. A still, stern-faced Biden could signal not all is great.

Kumar: Biden has important meetings in Cornwall and Brussels to be sure, but in the U.S. he will likely be judged by the Putin meeting. His administration has downplayed the possibility of any major policy agreement, which is all the more reason Biden will be judged on how he handles the criticism he’s already getting for suggesting the meeting in the first place.

Every leader arrives with a pet priority or peeve — what’s the low-down from your capital?

Andy Blatchford

Canada Correspondent

The restoration of unity in the club of major democracies is a big deal for a country like Canada. Trudeau and Canadian officials are focused on three Cs: Covid-19, China and climate. They think the G-7 will make progress contesting China in areas like human rights, and they’ll work to advance commitments on democracy, gender and oceans.

Webber: Johnson wants to make headway on climate change, with one eye on the next U.K.-hosted summit, COP26. Oh and, as per London Playbook, he will consider it a failure if he doesn’t make Biden laugh.

Ryan Heath

Global Translations Author

If France’s Macron is this OTT in public, the leaders need to prepare for a really special show in private. Macron is hyper-actively pushing for more coordinated global Covid-19 action — on everything from vaccine donations to funding health systems. He also went where Biden didn’t dare: publicly telling Boris Johnson he’s “not serious” about how he’s handling Brexit.

Kumar: Biden has repeatedly stressed that his foreign policies will strengthen his domestic policies, directly benefiting average Americans back home. The concept isn’t a completely new one for him, as we wrote this week, but it’s one that some observers say he’s focusing on more now because he’s trying to appeal to the slice of working-class voters who helped him win in 2020.

What do you make of Biden’s commitment to send 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine around the world?

Carmen Paun

Global Health Correspondent

America is back, and now it has the vaccines to prove it. It’s a grand gesture that will put pressure on other rich countries to step up their vaccine donation game, and it counters China and Russia’s vaccine diplomacy to poor countries, who either couldn’t afford them or found themselves at the back of the line for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The U.S. donation total of 580 million doses dwarfs China’s 23 million, and Russia’s 187,000.

The next real test: dealing with Pfizer vaccine need for ultracold storage: We’ve already seen some poor countries destroying or giving back AstraZeneca doses because they couldn’t use them before the expiration date.

Toosi: Honestly, it sort of had to happen, right, for this White House to have any credibility with the developing world? You can’t accuse Donald Trump of walking away from global leadership and then not make a move like this. And don’t be surprised if countries demand even more from the United States down the line. How the Biden administration reacts later to such demands will be very interesting.

Kumar: I totally agree with Carmen and Nahal. If Biden wants the United States to become a leader he needed to step up. Health organizations and human rights groups had been pushing the United States to do more. This move sets an example for other countries to follow.

Heath: Allies like Belgium — which is home to Pfizer’s biggest factory — are peeved about how it’s happening. Belgium’s prime minister told me that months of Biden prioritizing American vaccine production and controlling exports of vaccine raw materials has undercut global production. Now they’re worried about extended disruptions to these very sensitive supply chains because Biden insists on manufacturing the donated doses at home.”

Webber: Determined not to be left out, the U.K. has announced it will send 100 million vaccines around the world. The amount is not as important as the signal it sends: Boris Johnson is currently under fire domestically, from across the political spectrum, for cutting the U.K. aid budget from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of national income. This allows him to argue he’s not as inward-looking as his critics claim.

Is this New Atlantic Charter worth the paper it’s written on?

Toosi: The document is not as boring as these documents tend to be. It definitely seems quite modern and forward leading. I’m interested in this line, though: ‘We will work through the rules-based international order to tackle global challenges together.’ That’s the sort of thing that tends to needle Moscow and Beijing, who have a different view of the ‘rules’ and the ‘international order.’”

Webber: The charter may be full of lofty ideals and vague overtures, but as a symbol it’s a pretty helpful one. Both administrations are seeking to steady the boat after the turbulent Trump years, and it’s a neat way to lend some heft to that effort. The document serves to underline a genuine area of agreement – the need for democracies to stick together as a counterweight to China and Russia – but cannot distract altogether from the ongoing tension over Northern Ireland.

Now that all the G-7 leaders are on the ground in Cornwall, it’s time for the special guests to arrive: the leaders of India, South Africa, South Korea and Australia. That’s all part of Boris Johnson’s plan to give the G-7 a glow-up, eventually turning the group into a D-10 or D-11, the D standing for democracy.

We’ll see you in a few hours to wrap up the big first day.

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