David Cameron will today join other world leaders in talks set to be dominated by the deepening crisis over the eurozone.
Barack Obama has chosen the intimate setting of the US presidential retreat at Camp David to host the G8 in an attempt to foster free and open discussion among the leaders.
But even before official proceedings began, the event got off to a difficult start when Mr Cameron clashed with Francois Hollande over the new French president’s proposals for a Europe-wide tax on financial transactions.
The two men met for the first time following Mr Hollande’s election triumph earlier this month at the residence of the British ambassador in Washington before travelling on to Camp David.
Although the talks were described by officials as “friendly” there was no disguising the sharp difference over the issue of the financial transaction tax, which formed a key plank of Mr Hollande’s election platform.
“We are not going to get growth in Europe or in Britain by introducing a new tax that would actually hit people as well as institutions,” Mr Cameron said.
“I do not think it is a sensible measure. I will not support it.”
For his part, Mr Hollande could not resist a sly dig at Mr Cameron’s refusal to meet him when he visited London during the election campaign – a move widely interpreted as a snub to the Socialist leader.
“I couldn’t meet David Cameron before the elections,” he said. “I am all the happier to meet him afterwards.”
The clash did not augur well for the prospects of progress when the assembled leaders gather for their first working session this morning to discuss the economy.
Alongside Mr Hollande, who has called for a more growth-orientated strategy in Europe, will be German chancellor Angela Merkel – the eurozone’s paymaster and the arch-exponent of fiscal discipline to drive down the deficit.
The other nations taking part are Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia.
Mr Cameron, meanwhile, has again vented his frustration at the continuing inability of the eurozone leaders to reach a resolution to the Greek debt crisis threatening stability of the whole continent.
“Decisive action is needed by the eurozone. They cannot go on kicking the can down the road,” he said.
“This is in Britain’s interest too because we want to have a successful growing eurozone on our doorstep and not the instability we have now.”
And after the failure of the Greek elections to deliver a clear result and with further elections looming, he said the Greek people would have to make a decision on where their future lay.
“The Greeks have to make up their mind which direction they want to go in and then Europe has to make up its mind about how to strengthen the situation and put beyond doubt the stability of the euro,” he said
Mr Hollande insisted European leaders must consider “every possible option” for boosting growth when they meet informally next week, without adding to their deficits.
“We need to continue improving our public accounts while restoring growth. We will consider every possible option,” he said.
He stressed that he hoped Greece would be able to stay in the eurozone, although like Mr Cameron, he acknowledged that it was ultimately a matter for the Greek people.
“We would like Greece to remain in the eurozone but it is for the Greek people to answer that question,” he said.
“But my response is that we should do everything to ensure they answer ’yes’ to that question.”
Earlier, Mr Obama, who is pursuing his own economic stimulus package, met Mr Hollande at the White House.
The US administration has welcomed what it has called “the evolving discussion and debate” in Europe on the “imperative for jobs and growth” since Mr Hollande’s election.
Mr Obama said the summit would promote a “strong growth agenda”.
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner applauded the softer tone emerging among European leaders.
“You are seeing them talk about a better balance between growth and austerity, meaning a somewhat more gradual, softer path toward restoring fiscal sustainability,” he said.
Mr Hollande confirmed to both Mr Obama and Mr Cameron that he would be withdrawing French combat troops from Afghanistan this year – in line with his election promise although he said they would continue in a training role.
At the opening working dinner on Friday night, the leaders were discussing recent events in Syria, Iran, Burma and North Korea.
The working sessions on Saturday will cover energy and climate change, food security and the future of Afghanistan after the majority of international forces have left in 2015.