SEVEN NEW ICE CREAM FLAVOURS AND THE POPE: ITALY PREPARES TO HOST G7

Two accommodation options for this week’s G7 summit in the southern Italian region of Puglia have been on show: one, a sumptuous resort of bougainvillea-clad villas and private pools, where Madonna and the Beckhams have holidayed, and where the singer Justin Timberlake and actress Jessica Biel got married.

The other, a giant ship moored off the coast of Brindisi, full of water leaks and broken air conditioning units spewing dirt onto bedsheets.

The first, the palatial Borgo Egnazia, is housing the leaders of the world’s largest advanced economies, from Joe Biden to Emmanuel Macron, and Rishi Sunak to Justin Trudeau.

The second was brought in to accommodate the 2,600 police officers providing security. It was denounced by their unions as having “inhuman” conditions, resembling those of ancient slave ships.

Reported to have cost the Italian government €6m (£5.07m), it’s now been impounded, with a fraud investigation under way.

Two faces of Italy: the sublime and the shoddy.

For the Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, it’s the gleaming first face that she’ll play up this week, as she hosts world leaders, basking not only in the glorious Italian sun but also in her victory at the European elections last weekend.

Her party - the far-right Brothers of Italy, to some extent softened under her leadership - stormed to a convincing win, making her the only Western European leader strengthened by the vote.

Among the other guests, France’s President Macron was resoundingly defeated by the far-right National Rally, prompting him to call fresh parliamentary elections, while Germany’s Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, handed his Social Democrats their worst-ever European election result, beaten into third place by the far-right AfD.

As for the other G7 leaders, Rishi Sunak languishes in the polls before the upcoming UK election, as does Justin Trudeau ahead of his electoral fight in Canada next year; and Joe Biden could be booted out of the White House in November by Donald Trump.

Little wonder that Ms Meloni boasted that Italy was going into this summit with “the strongest government of all”.

Who would have imagined that the country whose notorious political volatility has ushered in almost 70 governments since World War Two would now be seen as the stable one as the others lose their footing?

That shaky situation in many G7 countries is contributing to low expectations among some observers.

“There are two levels to the G7: what’s the big narrative and what are the concrete deliverables – and on both counts, it looks like a very unlucky summit," says Natalie Tocci, the director of the Italian Institute for International Affairs.

In comparison, she says, 2021 marked President Biden’s first G7, in which he re-committed to the multilateral order after the turbulent years of Donald Trump; and the last two years have seen a clear sense of solidarity in the West after the invasion of Ukraine.

“But now," Ms Tocci warns, “if anything will come out of this summit, it’s the fear of a catastrophe playing out before our eyes,” with the urgency of reaching agreements before the possibility of new governments led by Donald Trump in the US and the far-right in France.

And what of those summit aims? The most likely to be fulfilled is a plan to loan Ukraine $50bn (€46bn; £39bn) from the interest on frozen Russian assets in the West.

Some parties, like the US, had mooted seizing the Russian assets altogether, thought to be worth around $300bn. But that was strongly opposed by others such as Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, who argued it could set a dangerous precedent and potentially violate international law.

The new proposal, with the assets used as collateral for a loan, looks likely to be backed at this summit, giving cash-starved and war-weary Ukraine another vital lifeline.

There will also be sessions on the climate crisis, with participants under pressure to move faster on transitioning to renewable energy; on Africa, as Italy spearheads investment projects there in part to encourage young Africans to stay rather than migrate, often illegally, to Europe; on the Middle East, after the United Nations approved a US-backed plan for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; and on artificial intelligence, which will be addressed by none other than Pope Francis.

The 87-year-old pontiff has called for global regulation of AI, warning of its danger to ethics and human rights.

It is the first time that a pope will attend a G7 – another boon for Giorgia Meloni.

Partly to combat criticism that the G7 permanent members are an exclusive club, an array of other world leaders have been invited, from Brazil to Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to Algeria, with the aim of broadening the global consensus.

It will be the first international summit for Narendra Modi of India and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa since both lost their majorities in recent elections.

And so Italians in this gorgeous coastal region will watch as helicopters fly in and soldiers prowl the streets.

Some, like ice-cream maker Vincenzo Iannacone, are proud of Puglia’s temporary elevation to the centre of the diplomatic world. He’s created seven new flavours in the parlour he’s owned for 57 years: one for each G7 member.

They bear colourful names of regional towns, from Almond of Toritto to Cookie of Messapica, prompting enthusiastic discussion about the summit among his customers, he says.

“I would love the delegations to come by and taste them," he tells me. And could he even hope they’d be added to the menu at Borgo Egnazia, the leaders’ resort?

“That would be the highlight of my life," he beams. “I don’t think it will happen – but never say never.”

2024-06-13T00:12:37Z dg43tfdfdgfd