A Guide to the G7 Summit: Trump Meets World Leaders in Taormina to Discuss Global Challenges and More

Mockery of G7 leaders
Protestors wearing masks depicting the leaders of the G7 countries pose for a selfie during a demonstration organised by Oxfam in Giardini Naxos, Sicily, Italy May 25, 2017. The G7 countries combined represent almost half og the world's GDP. Dylan Martinez/Reuters

In his last leg of a four-country trip, President Donald Trump is set to attend the annual G7 Summit held in the Italian town of Taormina, Sicily, on Friday and Saturday.

The annual gathering is attended by the heads of government of the so-called Group of Seven, the seven most developed nations in the world, who meet to discuss a common agenda to tackling global challenges.

Who takes part in the G7?

In the beginning, there were six nations: the U.S., France, Italy, Japan, Western Germany, and Britain. The first meeting occurred in France in 1975, with leaders aiming to discuss global issues in a “frank and amicable manner.” A year later, Canada joined the pack, and the meeting began to be known as Group 7, or G7 Summit.

The G7 is considered the meeting of the most highly developed and wealthiest nations in the world, representing together almost half of the world’s GDP.

In the period following the fall of the Soviet Union, the G7 leaders saw the summit as a way to encourage Russia’s political and economic transformation in the 1990s. Russia officially joined as a member in 1998, and the Summit changed its name to G8. But Russia’s membership did not last all that long.

In 2014, the year that Russia was scheduled to host the meeting in Sochi, the original G7 leaders found Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” in opposition to the “principles and values on which the G7 and the G8 operate.” The G7 leaders released a statement announcing the suspension of their participation in the Sochi summit “until the environment comes back where the G8 is able to have meaningful discussion.”

Why is the G7 in Italy this year?

The location of the G7, which traditionally takes place between the months of May, June and July, rotates according to the country that holds the group’s presidency that year.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced last year that his chosen location was Taormina, a town in Sicily founded by the Ancient Greeks in 734 BC. Renzi said he wanted to show off the beauty of southern Italy—and what better place to do so than a town that locals call The Pearl of the Ionio Sea.

Italy’s recent attempts to host the summit haven't gone well. In 2009, the meeting was moved at the last minute from the Sardinian town of La Maddalena to L’Aquila because the then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wanted to offer a gesture of goodwill to the town that had been largely destroyed by a powerful earthquake in April that year.

At the 2001 summit in Genoa, in northern Italy, a police officer shot dead an anti-globalization demonstrator during violent clashes between police and demonstrators on July 20. A day later, Italian police raided a school where protesters were sleeping, assaulting and arresting dozens of people. In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the authorities' treatment of the demonstrators violated a ban on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.  

The U.S. is set to host the meeting in 2020, which is expected to be the last year of President Trump’s current term in office.

What is security in Taormina like?

Some 7,000 officers between police and military forces have been deployed to patrol the streets of the town, which has around 11,000 inhabitants, the daily newspaper La Repubblica reported.

To support the work of the security forces, hundreds of CCTV cameras have been placed on every street and metal detectors surround access to the summit area. Even children are required to wear an identification badge at all time.

The aerial space around the town was closed down on Thursday morning and will remain closed until noon on Sunday. The authorities will be on high alert particularly on Saturday, when anti-globalization activists will hold a protest against the meeting. Both schools and shops in the area of the demonstration will be closed down on Saturday.

20130608 486ctrcrop An aerial view of Taormina, Italy, with Mount Etna in the background, taken on June 6, 2013. The G7 summit will take place in Taormina this month. Boris Behncke

What is on the agenda?

The theme for this year’s summit is “Building the foundations of renewed trust,” but the bombing in Manchester on Monday night thrusted terrorism and security on the very top of the agenda. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said they plan to deliver “the strongest possible message of extraordinary common effort against terrorism” in the aftermath of the attack. "In Taormina, we have the opportunity to once again emphasize that the cowardice of those who takes the lives of young people will not win over our freedom.”

The leaders are also expected to discuss other pressing issues, the Italian news agency Agi reported. These include the war in Syria, the North Korean threat, and increasing cybersecurity attacks; the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement; immigration; protectionism; Brexit; innovation; social issues and sustainable development.  

At the end of the two-day talks, the leaders will host a press conference to announce their progress, or lack thereof, in addressomg these issues.

What will the leaders’ partners do?

The world leaders traditionally bring their partners along for the meeting. Men are thin on the ground on the trip: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s husband, Joachim Sauer, is reported to be skipping it, while British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office confirm to Newsweek her husband Philip won’t make it.

Five First Ladies will be there, however: Italy’s Manuela Gentiloni, America's Melania Trump, Canada’s Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, Japan’s Akie Abe and France’s Brigitte Trogneux. Her husband Emmanuel Macron is the most recently-elected leader among the group, having won the elections in early May.

As with every conference, the partners’ program features a more entertaining schedule than that of the official meeting, the Italian news agency Ansa reported. The spouses will be treated to a helicopter ride to Mount Etna, which, despite its proximity to the venue and its recent volcanic activity, is unlikely to erupt in the coming days, and go on cultural excursions to archeological sites, museums and exhibitions on Friday. On Saturday, they will taste local products such as freshly squeezed juices and Sicilian granita, a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavorings.