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G8 Summit: The gates are open and they’re off

July 8, 2009

July 8th, 2009 12:21pm
by Guy Dinmore

Barack Obama has landed in Rome, as has Gordon Brown, before moving on to the summit venue in the Apennine mountains of the Abruzzo region. Germany’s Angela Merkel is the first to get a guided tour of some of L’Aquila’s quake-ruined settlements, accompanied by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister.

The US president immediately delivers what the embattled premier needs, a strong declaration of confidence in Italy’s leadership of the G8 summit. Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, says it is “unthinkable” that Italy would lose its place in the rich nations club, contrary to what London’s Guardian newspaper would suggest.

But there is a last minute apology from President Hu Jintao, who has to rush back to China to deal with unrest among Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province.

Hundreds of journalists are gathering at the Aquilone shopping mall to go through security to board buses for the “media village” at the summit venue, the Finance Ministry police college campus. It is only about three or four km from the mall, but we are driven 20km so we can cruise past reconstruction projects and see a new road (at least according to the bus driver).

Impressive air-conditioned tents are set up, each holding 1,000 or so reporters. Computers and phonelines are in place, but firewalls are making it difficult to get into newspaper systems, and even Facebook.

A rocky start for the G8 which, in the alphabet soup of summitry, will meet later with the G5 plus one (Egypt) and the 16-nation Major Economies Forum to tackle climate change.

Late night talks among MEF “sherpas” failed to agree on setting a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

A tent full of NGO activists are calling on Obama to “show leadership” by putting money and means on the table that will persuade India and China to get on board. There is still hope of a breakthrough when the MEF meets tomorrow.

Italian officials are happy that on the economic front the G8 leaders will on Wednesday embrace the “Lecce Framework”, what Rome calls the foundations and walls of a set of global standards to regulate globalisation. Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister and an ex-socialist, spearheaded the initiative that got backing from Germany and France but is still looked on sceptically by the Anglo-Saxons. Perhaps like past commitments that have been broken – most notably promises of aid to poor countries – they just think this is one more initiative that will wither on the wayside.

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