Trump versus the rest as violent G20 wraps up

US President Donald Trump heads Saturday into the final day of a fractious and violent G20 summit in Germany at odds even with America's traditional Western allies.

Trump versus the rest as violent G20 wraps up
Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Negotiators from the world's 20 top economies were expected to have worked all night trying to hammer out a final summit statement that at least gives the impression of unity.

Hamburg authorities meanwhile braced for another day of demonstrations, after two days of running battles between police and anti-capitalist protesters left 200 officers injured and a trail of destruction.

Trump vs. Putin

The summit has been anything but harmonious inside the heavily guarded venue as world leaders struggled to adjust to the unorthodox approach of the new occupant of the White House.

Trump's most eagerly awaited encounter was a bruising head-to-head – their first – with Russia's strongman President Vladimir Putin lasting two and a quarter hours.

On the presidential election campaign trail last year, Trump said he hoped relations with Putin could be rebuilt after Russia's acrimonious ties with his predecessor Barack Obama.

A day after Trump slammed Moscow's actions in Ukraine and Syria, the two men Friday had a “robust and lengthy exchange” about allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

But Tillerson, who was present at the marathon meeting, said also that the two alpha-male leaders “connected very quickly” with “very clear positive chemistry”.

“Neither one of them wanted to stop,” he said. “I believe they even sent in the (US) First Lady at one point to see if she could get us out of there.”

Trump also met Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto for the first time as president and insisted that Mexico would “absolutely” pay for his planned border wall.

The issue of who would stump up the cash for Trump's signature election campaign pledge was not covered in the actual talks, Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said.

“We didn't touch on that subject in our conversation… partly because we have a well-known, significant difference of opinion on that,” Videgaray said.

On Saturday Trump was due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. Thorny issues there include North Korea after this week's latest missile test, US arms sales to Taiwan and Chinese steel exports.

Storm over climate

But if Trump and Putin established a rapport, the distance between the US leader and America's long-standing partners has widened with his climate-sceptic opinions and “America First” policy.

The growing rift has turned this year's G20 summit — normally a ripple-free event in the diplomatic calendar — into one of the stormiest in the forum's history.

A draft communique seen by AFP Friday appeared to reflect the 19-versus-one stance on climate.

It underlines that the 2015 Paris climate accord is “irreversible” and affirms that other G20 nations are committed to the deal while taking note of Washington's decision to quit the agreement.

On trade it appeared that the final communique would stress the importance of free trade but also recognise the right of countries to defend itself against uncompetitive practices.

“This would be a first,” one source said.

'A debacle'

The violent clashes in Hamburg meant that US First Lady Melania Trump was unable to join fellow leaders' spouses on a tour of Hamburg harbour, while the car tyres of the Canadian delegation were slashed.

Militants torched cars, smashed windows and broke up paving slabs to throw stones at riot police who resorted to water cannon and tear gas as helicopters buzzed overhead, AFP reporters said.

The activists failed, however, to prevent G20 leaders making it to Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie concert hall for a rendition of Beethoven's ninth symphony. They then went on to a gala dinner.

“War, climate change, exploitation are the result of the capitalist system that the G20 stands for and which 20,000 police are here to defend,” demonstrator Georg Ismail told AFP.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could understand peaceful protests, but demonstrations that “put people’s lives in danger, put the protesters' own lives in danger… are unacceptable”.

But the influential Bild daily slammed Merkel in a stinging editorial, calling the summit a “debacle” for the chancellor ahead of elections in September.

“Of course the police did all it could. But the street belonged to the mob. The feeling of general security that the state must guarantee has ceased to exist in Hamburg over the last 48 hours,” Bild thundered.


How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP