G7 leaders can make next month’s summit a success by seeking agreement on global vaccine supply and demonstrating the solidarity of the transatlantic alliance, a group of experts said.
The meeting in Britain will be the first in-person gathering of G7 leaders since the start of the pandemic and the first since Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump as US President.
“The G7 has come out of an induced coma and it’s still recovering from those traumatic few years,” said Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to the UK.
A group of academics and political insiders told an event hosted by the Aspen Institute that a display of unity after the tumultuous Trump years would be a welcome signal.
“The optics are more important in this day and age than ever before,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“I think having Biden come to Europe and stand in solidarity with core allies is important. There’s an opportunity here to send a broader message about the return of solidarity of the Atlantic democracies.”
The experts called for leaders, including Mr Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to seek global co-operation on vaccines, economic recovery and climate change.
Rich countries are under pressure to provide more vaccine doses to developing countries rather than hoarding them for their own populations.
“If the G7 could come out with a pretty bold package of pandemic recovery that gets hundreds of millions of vaccines into the arms of people in low and middle-income countries, that would be a good thing,” Mr Kupchan said.
The gap between vaccine distribution in rich and poor countries has been condemned by the World Health Organisation, activist Greta Thunberg and religious leaders, among others.
Mr Biden this month signalled support for an intellectual property waiver in respect of Covid-19 vaccines, but the EU does not support the idea.
“I think the priority should be the vaccine issue and the patent issue,” said Sylvie Kaufmann, the editorial director of French newspaper Le Monde.
“We have seen a lot of competition and they should come together at this gathering. I think there should really be a common view that this is a matter of urgency for the whole world.”
Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, said there might be a “landing ground” between the European and US positions, which would lead to technology being shared rather than patents waived.
But EU ambassador Mr Almeida said: “I don’t expect an agreement on patents out of Cornwall, the issue is far too complicated for that.”
Climate change on the agenda as Cop26 nears
Britain is hosting the G7 meeting five months before it leads the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow.
G7 environment ministers, including US climate envoy John Kerry, were holding preparatory talks on Thursday and Friday.
Mr Niblett said leaders could use the June summit to seek more ambitious climate targets from countries such as Australia and India.
Those two nations will attend the G7 summit as guests, as will South Korea and South Africa.
The main seven leaders could “use that grouping to bring others along with them and make commitments they might not otherwise have made”, Mr Niblett said.
What the leaders can usefully do is to inject dynamism and drive and leadership
Joao Vale de Almeida
The experts warned against making the G7 an ideological alliance of democracies against countries such as Russia and China.
But they said the gathering in Britain could provide momentum on critical global issues.
“The G7 is not an organisation, it has no bureaucracy, it isn’t an institution like the UN or the World Trade Organisation or the WHO,” Mr Almeida said.
“It’s first and foremost a gathering where the leaders meet in the most intimate setting that I have witnessed.
“What the leaders can usefully do is to inject dynamism and drive and leadership.”