Vladimir Putin’s ambiguous overtures to the US on missile defence at this week’s G8 summit sent foreign policy experts scratching their heads around the world. But when Angela Merkel, the German host, closed the event on Friday, she was not going to let the Russian president steal the show.
The summit, she said, was “a success”, and although a look back at the three-day gathering shows this to be only partly true, the German chancellor no doubt comes out of it honourably.
After two years of foot-dragging by the world’s richest countries on aid pledges made at the Gleneagles summit in 2005, the latest G8 declaration on helping Africa was dismissed as “farcical” by Bob Geldof, the rock star turned development campaigner.
However, more was achieved than suggested by the summit’s faltering start amid disputes over climate change and an early logistical meltdown. “The chancellor is the winner,” said one European diplomat. For David McCormick, US deputy national security adviser and a G8 “sherpa”, Ms Merkel was “absolutely to be complimented for really running a terrific G8 process”.
Not all of her goals were achieved. The summit’s communiqué on climate change – the event’s highlight – did not mention binding emission and climate targets. One attendant summed it up as “more than expected, but less than needed”.
Persuading George W. Bush, the US president, to embed his climate-change initiative in the UN-led Kyoto process, however, was a substantial achievement, according to European diplomats and non-government organisations.
Aides attributed the outcome to Ms Merkel’s long-term approach to diplomacy. Having committed the European Union to emissions targets in March, she ensured that Britain’s Tony Blair and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy were on her side in the climate talks in Heiligendamm.
Discussions with Canada and Japan in the run-up to the summit, and with Mr Putin in Russia, threatened Mr Bush with isolation on the issue – prompting his climate initiative a week ago.
“From her domestic experience, Ms Merkel knows how to build political coalitions, and that's useful in the G8 context,” said a senior G8 diplomat.
Some delegates criticised her decision to go into the gathering without an agreement on crucial parts of the communiqué. Yet the weight of the world’s cameras, pointing at them, increased the leaders’ willingness to compromise.
Though criticising Ms Merkel for not living up to promises, especially on development aid for Africa, many campaigners grudgingly praised her for “toughing it out with Mr Bush” on climate, as one activist put it.
“She has to be complimented for not giving up a week ago – but still trying to get as good a deal as she could,” said John Anthony of the Washington-based pressure group, the National Environmental Trust.
US delegates praised the relaxed atmosphere of the talks, which they attributed in part to the absence of two former national leaders and staunch critics of the Iraq war, Jacques Chirac of France and Gerhard Schröder of Germany.
Logistics was perhaps the summit’s greatest failing. Protesters defying a ban on demonstrations on roads to the Heiligendamm venue forced hundreds of the leaders’ personal aides to fall back on boats and helicopters.
But Germany’s straight-talking Bild tabloid, a faithful mirror of German public opinion, showed no circumspection on Friday, crowning the chancellor “Miss World”.