Next week’s G20 Hamburg summit could resemble a tawdry soap opera, or even a wrestling match in some regards given the levels of suspense, intrigue, and tension surrounding the meeting. For more than one G20 leader, the stakes will be high. Personal political futures could hinge on what transpires. This will not be a summit featuring great unity and solidarity. On the policy front, G20 summits have a history of the Western powers coming together and pushing nations like Russia, China, and India to follow their lead. In all likelihood, that will not be happening this time around.
The chasm between some European nations and the United States on policies could be too wide to overcome. President Trump threatened Germany, and China with punitive trade measures on steel. Berlin is concerned that the US will renege on its promise to fight protectionism. Then there is migration, where the respective policies of the European Union and the US are moving in opposite directions.
Another matter making some western European nations uneasy is President Trump’s planned visit to Poland before the G20 summit. Poland’s defiance towards Brussels has been a growing concern lately, and there is apprehension that Trump’s visit will only encourage Polish resistance, and efforts to carve out influence outside of the EU. When he arrives in Hamburg, Trump will meet with Vladimir Putin in person for the very first time. The two leaders will have much to talk about, from Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US election, to Syria’s future.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be the leader with the most to lose in Hamburg. Her ability to forge sensitive compromises between leaders with far different positions will be put to the test. Given the differences between the US and Germany on climate, migration, and trade, it’s difficult to expect Merkel and Trump to come to some sort of agreement. Trump is not the only foreign leader who Merkel has a strained relationship with at the moment. Putin, and Turkish President Erdogan, who will also be attending the G20, fall into the same category. It would be in Merkel’s best interest if she could make progress with at least one of them, especially with Merkel being in the midst of an election campaign herself.
Over the weekend, and into next week, the G20 and related issues will be discussed more.