At the start of the two-day summit of the world’s leading industrial nations, host Angela Merkel greeted Obama in the idyllic Alpine town of Kruen under blue skies, surrounded by locals in traditional dress, drinking beer and eating pretzels.
Merkel is hoping to secure commitments from her G7 guests to tackle global warming to build momentum in the run-up to a major UN climate summit in Paris in December. The German agenda also foresees talks on global health issues, from ebola to antibiotics and tropical diseases.
But the crises in Ukraine and Greece could overshadow the discussions at Schloss Elmau, a luxury hotel in the mountains of southern Germany near the Austrian border.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking before the start of the summit, voiced exasperation with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, accusing him of distorting proposals by international creditors for a cash-for-reform deal to save Athens from default.
He reaffirmed that a Greek exit from the single currency area was not an option but cautioned that this did not mean he could “pull a rabbit out of a hat” to prevent it.
Obama said leaders would discuss the global economy, trade partnerships, and “standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine” as well as threats from violent extremism and climate change.
Both he and Merkel highlighted the importance of the German-American relationship, damaged in recent years by revelations of US spying in Germany, including the bugging of the chancellor’s mobile phone.
“My message to the German people is simple: we are grateful for your friendship, for your leadership,” said Obama, using the traditional Bavarian greeting “Gruess Gott” to the crowd gathered in a village square. “We stand together as inseparable allies in Europe and around the world,”
Merkel alluded to “differences” but described the US as “our friend” and an “essential partner”.
At the news conference with Juncker, European Council president Donald Tusk said he hoped the G7 would present a united front on sanctions toward Russia, adding: “If anyone wants to start a discussion about changing the sanctions regime, it could only be about strengthening it”.
European monitors have blamed recent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine on Russian-backed separatists. Russian president Vladimir Putin was frozen out of what used to be the G8 after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year.
Several hundred demonstrators began hiking early yesterday from the resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen to get near the security perimeter around the Schloss Elmau hotel, the secluded summit venue 8km away.
Some 22,000 police from around Germany were brought in to keep protesters away from the hotel as delegations from Britain, the US, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, and Italy arrived. Journalists were flown by helicopter to the venue to avoid delays on the roads due to the protesters.
EU president Donald Tusk said the G7 protests were a sign of a healthy democracy.
He said the world leaders had no need to apologise for their meeting, saying the gathering of industrialised democracies is “the best guarantee” that freedom and pluralism will survive.