Global Memos are briefs by the Council of Councils that gather opinions from global experts on major international developments.
Group of Seven (G7) and invited leaders pose for a family photo on the second day of the G7 summit in Savelletri, Italy on June 14, 2024. REUTERS/Louisa Gouliamaki
REUTERS/Louisa Gouliamaki

Italy hosted the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Apulia on June 13-15, 2024. In this global perspective roundup, seven experts reflect on the significant outcomes on policies defending Ukraine and a more assertive approach toward China, but also highlight the uncertainty of future accomplishments given domestic political turmoil in almost all G7 countries. 

A Possible High-Water Mark for the G7


Despite six of seven leaders suffering from political weakness at home—with Italian host and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni the sole exception as she managed to consolidate her power during the EU election—the G7 summit pulled off a rather strong, united, and long joint statement. Two issues stand out.

First and foremost, the G7 leaders plus the European Union agreed on front-loading funding for Ukraine in its existential war with Russia. The G7’s “Extraordinary Revenue Acceleration (ERA) Loans for Ukraine” will use the future expected proceeds of the almost $300 billion worth of seized Russian assets to make available approximately $50 billion in additional funding before a potential return by former President Donald Trump to the White House in January 2025. While this scenario had been discussed in the past few months, most analysts and policymakers generally assumed that it would take many more months to work out the details. This is a major win for U.S. diplomacy, as the European Union currently holds most of Russia’s frozen assets and was initially reluctant to go as far.

Second, the Apulia summit marks a major shift of the G7 countries in their attitudes vis-à-vis China. While Beijing was not invited to the meeting, its shadow hung over most of the discussions, and China is mentioned twenty-seven times in the summit communiqué. While in previous G7 summits, China was often talked about as a partner—whether it was in tackling climate change, fighting organized crime, addressing nuclear proliferation, or reducing poverty—the Apulia summit saw the European countries take a much more assertive approach toward China. This is also the result of U.S. efforts to successfully convince the Europeans that the Chinese are playing an increasingly active role in supporting Russia in its war in Ukraine, hence doing direct harm to Europe’s security interests. While EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen advocated the principle of “first, do no harm” in dealing with China—considering the unintended consequences and harmful effects applying geoeconomic countermeasures to Chinese unfair trade practices—the G7 statement indicates closer transatlantic agreement than before.

That said, with potential leadership changes in at least half of the G7 governments in the next fifteen months, the Apulia summit could prove to be the high-water mark of G7 harmony, before a period of chaotic G7 discord and uncertainty.

The G7 Shows Pragmatism on Ukraine—Right-Wing Populism Could Soon Undermine It


Two takeaways emerge for the direction of world politics after the G7 summit.

First, the summit demonstrated the G7’s substantial pragmatism with regard to supporting Ukraine in its military campaign against Russia’s aggression and expansion. European countries, which have previously stated their intention to support Ukraine indefinitely, have now agreed to utilize interest payments on the Russian government’s frozen assets as a source of funding for Ukraine’s military operations and reconstruction efforts. By overcoming their initial concerns about the potentially harmful effects on the strength of the euro currency, European leaders have demonstrated their willingness to pursue their stated strategic goals. The European Union is demonstrating that it is prepared to employ financial and economic instruments to pursue crucial foreign and economic policy priorities. While more could have been done to support Ukraine and protect Western Europe’s own security in the longer run, the decision nevertheless sends an important signal to Russian President Vladamir Putin: when necessary, G7 leaders can find common ground and raise capital despite their diverging interests and approaches to other areas of international politics, ranging from trade and industrial to climate policy.

Second, the G7 summit provided ample evidence that the political right is growing as a political force on the global stage. It is now in a position to stop the political pendulum that swings between liberalism and authoritarianism from moving further toward the liberal pole. Italy’s newly emboldened right-wing leader, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, has skillfully provided two examples of this strength: not only was she able to put “migration control” at the top of the G7 agenda, but she also managed to block a French initiative supported by the United States to protect abortion rights. Both powers were either unable or unwilling to expend the political capital necessary to enshrine abortion rights in the summit's final declaration. Meloni and the right-wing political forces she represents were able to secure a victory in an important international game while other liberal and centrist leaders seemed preoccupied with the political situation at home. It remains to be seen whether this will—in the longer term—undermine the G7’s ability to act pragmatically and effectively on crucial international policy issues.

The Summit’s Light and Dark Sides


Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has made no mystery of her pride for the G7 summit held in Apulia, which she declared a success.

However, the summit had both a light and dark side. On the one hand, the G7 leaders presented a united front on the most urgent geopolitical issues, including relations with Russia and China, announcing new measures—both short- and long-term—to address them. On the other hand, growing uncertainty surrounding the evolution of the domestic politics in most G7 countries and, in particular, the looming prospect of a radical leadership change in the U.S. and French governments in the coming months raise doubts over the actual implementation of what was decided at the summit and, more generally, the future direction of Western policies. A central task of the G7 is indeed to send straightforward and credible messages to both rivals and partners as well as to the world markets about the broad economic and political strategies its members intend to commonly pursue. Leaders whose grip on power appears increasingly weak or precarious have difficulty fulfilling this G7’s quintessential task.

The summit’s most significant achievement was the agreement to loan Ukraine $50 billion by leveraging the revenues from Russian sovereign assets frozen after Moscow invaded Ukraine in 2022. In the run-up to the summit, the G7 leaders signaled their collective resolve to continue supporting Ukraine in the long run by approving new substantial packages of military assistance, overcoming considerable internal resistance. The deal on the use of the immobilized Russian assets reinforced this message and has a highly symbolic value for Ukraine, although the United States and Canada proposed a bolder plan envisaging the transfer to Ukraine of the whole $300 billion in frozen assets. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak presented the agreement as game-changing, but complex technical problems will have to be solved, and the money will not be disbursed until the end of the year. 

Other significant announcements that further highlight the G7’s commitment to defend Ukraine include a ten-year security agreement between the United States and Ukraine and fresh sanctions against both Russia and China-based financial institutions that help Moscow obtain critical items for its war machine. However, their effort to enlarge the coalition supporting Ukraine has so far had limited results, as shown by the refusal of such big non-aligned countries as Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa to join the final declaration at the subsequent West-sponsored peace summit in Switzerland.

The other dominant theme of the summit was the distorting effects of China’s industrial overcapacity. Tensions with China have been a centerpiece of the G7 agenda since last year’s Hiroshima summit. At the Apulia summit, a large part of the final communiqué was dedicated to the dangers posed by China’s economic expansionism, and the document’s general tone was even more confrontational. The G7 leaders committed to counter China’s policies and practices that undermine their economic security and strengthen the resilience of their economies to avert the risk of economic coercion. In the last year, there has been a growing convergence between the G7 countries around those objectives. All of them have enacted protectionist measures and strengthened export control and investment screening mechanisms targeting China. 

However, further advancing policy coordination regarding relations with China will remain a daunting challenge. For instance, the EU trade measures against China aimed at circumventing sanctions are much softer than those imposed by the United States. Subsidy policies to ensure greater economic security and resilience by enhancing the national industrial base could also remain a source of friction between G7 countries. How far they are ready to push their de-risking strategies vis-à-vis China will no doubt remain a matter of heated debate both in transatlantic relations and within the G7.

The G7 Continues to Play a Central Role in Global Governance, but for How Much Longer?


The Group of Seven (G7) summit demonstrated the G7’s continuing central role in global governance. Important outcomes included reiteration of the G7’s strong support for Ukraine (underpinned by an agreement on $50 billion of new funding financed by the income on frozen Russian state assets), support for the U.S.-backed comprehensive deal to bring an end to the Israel-Hamas conflict, and a new Energy for Growth initiative in Africa. Those outcomes spanned the G7’s four core roles: developing practical solutions for global challenges, protecting its members’ interests, resolving internal disputes, and providing an all-year framework for close collaboration and networking among member governments. 

The G7 produced this outcome despite the electoral unpopularity of a number of its leaders and the fact that this year’s presidency was held by Italy’s far-right populist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The agenda through the year has reflected Meloni’s priorities to some degree, for instance, by dedicating extensive attention to tackling irregular migration; through outreach to Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East; and by saying significantly less on economic security and the West’s relationship with China than at the previous G7 Summit in Hiroshima. But it also carried forward a wide range of established G7 priorities, including on climate change, global health, and artificial intelligence. As such, the Joe Biden administration currently sees the G7 as one of the most effective parts of the global governance system, even though it is well understood that it cannot replicate the role of broader groups such as the Group of Twenty. 

However, the U.S. presidential election in November presents enormous uncertainty for the G7 and the current system of global governance. If President Biden is re-elected, one can expect the G7’s central role to continue. But if former President Donald Trump is elected, the outlook becomes very uncertain. During the first Trump administration, the G7 was effectively paralyzed. This reflected the Trump administration’s antipathy to many of the group’s underlying tenets—including support for the multilateral trading system and the prominent role of the International Monetary Fund at the heart of the global financial safety net. The Trump administration’s relationship with the G7 reached a nadir during Canada’s G7 presidency in 2018, when President Trump disowned the communiqué after it had been agreed on by all members. Such an outcome would arguably be even more damaging today given the enhanced role of the G7 following Russia’s attack on Ukraine. 

The outcome of the U.S. presidential election is of course unclear, but the consequences of a second Trump presidency for the G7 and its role in global governance will be high on the list of U.S. allies’ concerns. 

Apulia Onwards: An Era of Global South Interoperability


The Russia-China bond and the West’s sensitivity to its derivative security, energy, and economic risks were the main factors that shaped the outcomes of the G7 summit. 

While the $50 billion Extraordinary Revenue Acceleration Loans for Ukraine were the biggest actions taken against Russia, the foregrounding of Africa took centre stage at the summit. The new policies launched in the G7’s African outreach are rooted in Europe’s need to diversify its energy sources, increase developmental partnerships in Africa where China has established its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and address the push factors causing African immigration into Europe. The Energy for Growth in Africa initiative was launched to invest in sustainable industrial and infrastructural development in African countries and will provide Africa with an alternative investor to China. Though the G7 has become sensitized to the importance of investing in Africa for countering a rising China, the Western countries will need a stronger investment program that targets large infrastructure projects, which is the core competency of the BRI. The G7 faces a contest with China within the global aid architecture as China has become the largest bilateral lender to developing countries on both concessional and non-concessional terms. The Western democracies also highlighted the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group and other Russia-backed forces as having a destabilizing effect on a democratic Africa.

The summit also launched the Semiconductors G7 Point of Contact Group, which gained centrality after China’s recent encirclement exercise around Taiwan, the hub of semiconductor manufacturing, to assert its dominance over the island. As the insecurity around a militarizing China in the Indo-Pacific remains a core common concern between the G7 and India, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s participated in bilateral discussions and the summit’s Outreach session. Supply chain resilience was a common priority, and the G7 showed formal commitment to promote the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor where India remains an important stakeholder. 

The organizational apparatus and operational domains of the G7 have continued to evolve since 1975 and are no longer centred around global financial governance. The Russia-Ukraine war, security in the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea, Iran’s assertive behavior, and the conflict in west Asia remain deeply enmeshed considerations for the G7. Yet the grouping’s evolution to maintain relevance for the next fifty years demands that Western democracies learn to operate in such a contested matrix without creating deadlocks. 

For the G7, implementing its policies on financing developing and emerging countries, especially in Africa, in a manner that allows them interoperability and agency is crucial. While geopolitical contestation is inherently polarizing, the G7 should not allow the rest of the world to get entangled in this polarization as the developmental finance starts flowing into Africa. India remains one of the leading voices of and mediators  with the developing and emerging world, as it balances its interests by closely engaging with the G7 while simultaneously mechanising the BRICS+ (the economic grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, which recently admitted Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates). To weather a contested global order, the G7 should calibrate itself to deal with such strategic interoperability with the rest of the world. 

However, the G7 also faces challenges from within that could undermine the grouping’s policy continuity in the near future. The prospect of a United States run by former President Donald Trump, its effects on the geopolitical stalemates around the world, and the membership expansion of the G7 are some internal questions that could gain prominence. In any case, it will be the ability of the collective G7 to work around contestation that will sustain its multilateral heft and legitimacy in the long run.   

The G7 Can Do More to Defend International Order


It was my hope that the G7 Summit in Italy would reinforce the world’s belief in the G7 as a defender of the rules-based international system that can help restore peace and order in the world. This year’s summit should be commended for tackling that mission head on, though reception has been mixed around the world.

The Italian G7 presidency took the lead in efforts to promote development in Africa and resolve the refugee crisis, and G7 members agreed to provide Ukraine with a loan by the end of the year that will be backed by frozen Russian assets. G7 leaders also fully endorsed U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposals for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and a clearer path toward a two-state solution and eventual peace. Such steps have never been taken before. The G7 has shown itself to be more united in working toward ending wars and resolving pressing global challenges.

However, uncertainty remains about how well this G7 message is being received in the rest of the world, especially in countries that have criticized the West for what they call its double standards. Israel shows no signs of stopping its military operations in Rafah. Regarding the war in Ukraine, the West is asking for China’s cooperation while they criticize China’s excessive industrial capacity. Concerns about China’s violations of international rules are also spreading, while the United States and European Union are moving toward the implementation of higher electric vehicle tariffs on China.

The values that the G7 advocates should not simply protect Western interests but be more universal and supported widely. The G7 member states will only be able to regain their positions as global leaders if countries outside of the West are willing to share those values.

Many G7 leaders attending this year’s summit are dealing with faltering domestic support, and a completely different group of leaders at next year’s summit is possible. If the G7 wishes to regain its leading position and earn back the trust from the rest of the world, each country needs to show its commitment to restoring the rules-based order and rebuilding international cooperation.