Biarritz is the quintessential French resort town where manicured and pearled madams promenade small-coiffed dogs as tatty, tattooed and toking surfers seek their next set of waves rolling in from the Bay of Biscay.
It still attracts the gentry fleeing the heat of Paris in August even if it is a little jaded, a little faded. It attracts the hip and the hippies, the surfers and the golfers, the ladies and the laddies. Biarritz is all things to those seeking a summer recess, a summer redress.
Today, Biarritz is a tired town. And last weekend, Biarritz was a town tied down by the tight security restraints of hosting the G7 world leaders.
President Emmanuel Macron is the youngest French leader since Napoleon, a man who seems to be at the very centre of Europe, modernist and liberal, set to be the next voice of the continent with the looming retirement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is Macron who choose Biarritz, he who played host to other members of the G7, he who set its formal agenda or making it up on the fly. Like Biarritz itself, where the formal French holiday season has long been blurred by casualness and informalities, the G7 summit itself has now descended into a more informal, freewheeling session — a weekend getaway, a focus on brunches, not bunches of business meetings.
And so it was under President Macron, where there was no formal communique, just general accords that would not cause too much discord.
While President Donald Trump suggested that it was time to re-admit President Vladimir Putin back into the club, the other members of the social circle deemed that a step too far given the issue of his move away from the principles of democracy — which is what the G7 is generally about — and had over-stepped the mark when it came to the annexisation of Crimea.
For President Macron, there was also an attempt to resolve the pressing issue of Iran and its nuclear programme. The G7 agreed that their host would issue a statement of intent of Iran to pursue talks to de-escalate tensions. And maybe President Trump would meet Iran’s Hassan Rouhani down the road, or maybe not.
Those brunches and soirées also turned to the hot topic of the fires now ravaging the Amazon rainforest. Yes, it was a disgrace most said, and most said that they would help. A whip around from the world’s richest industrial nations managed to raise a $20 million commitment to fight fires in the Amazon. That’s a sum that was rejected by Brazil’s president as insulting — not that he needed it or wanted it anyway, then threw in an insult about Madam Macron for good measure anyway. Brigitte, the First Lady of France, is 25 years older than Emmanuel, who as a 15-year-old boy who fell in love with his teacher.
At Biarritz, Macron quickly discovered that no communiqué means no carefully negotiated written record of what leaders have actually agreed, no solid commitment to any particular course of action. Nothing to prove that, in fact, the leaders of the free world are still able to reach consensus on how to manage tough problems.
Put Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Britain’s Boris Johnson, European Council President Donald Tusk, Italy’s Giuseppe Conte, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, together with Trump, Marcon and Merkel, and there are almost as many accounts of what was agreed, or wasn’t.
“The way the G7 functions is by unanimity,” one EU official said. “You don’t have votes in the G7. You need to have consensus.” Trouble is, as President Macron is now only too aware, there was no consensus.
Macron’s election represented a long-awaited generational change in French politics where the same faces have dominated for years.
Many attribute Macron’s stunning rise to a deep yearning for a fresh face, coupled with a rare message of optimism in a country that has long been obsessed with national decline. That’s a message that has not gotten through, however, to the gilets jeunes — the yellow-jacketed protesters who have railed for months against his reorganisation of French labour laws, economic reforms and consumer tax increases.
Despite having attended France’s most prestigious schools, making a killing by brokering a $10 billion corporate acquisition, and serving in a Socialist government under President Francois Hollande, Macron has steadfastly vowed to shake up the system that he comes from.
He sleeps little and can often be seen online on the Telegram messaging service at 2am, says his ambition is to bridge the left-right divide that has long dominated French politics. Bridging the divides in the G7, however, is a far more taxing matter.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe