Biden, Macron, Scholz, Johnson: global allies, struggling at home

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MADRID – When the leaders of the Group of Seven nations gathered on a recent night in the Bavarian Alps to pose for a photo after a long day of meetings, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson enthused: “Ride for life, G-7! — as if the three-day summit was a fanciful adventure for the transatlantic allies.

Johnson could be forgiven for wishing. Like his three main counterparts, who flew from the G-7 gathering in Germany on Tuesday to their next summit, a NATO meeting in Madrid, Johnson is trying to forge a strong international alliance at a time when he is badly weakened at home. him.

President Biden’s approval has plummeted and he faces potentially large losses in the medium term. French President Emmanuel Macron won his recent re-election campaign but then quickly lost control of parliament amid historic gains for the far right and a strong result for the left. German Chancellor Olaf, who is struggling to impose himself after replacing veteran Angela Merkel, is strongly criticized in his country as a procrastinating and inscrutable leader.

Then there’s Johnson. His polls plummeted after revelations he and his staff broke covid lockdown rules with parties at his residence. He is the first sitting British Prime Minister to be fined. In a no-confidence vote this month, 41% of his fellow Tories voted to oust him, and the party chairman resigned.

For all their individual woes, the four leaders – who met privately on Tuesday morning in Germany before traveling to Madrid – face a broadly similar threat: rising populism against the backdrop of a faltering global economy, besieged institutions and a bloody war pressed by the Russian President. Vladimir Poutine.

It can be difficult, current and former diplomats say, to maintain purpose and unity amid such fragile national foundations. “Putin looks at this – it’s entirely possible he considers time his friend,” said Richard Haass, a veteran diplomat and chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Putin probably thinks he’s better off getting through a long war than, say, a newly divided France. Or a polarized America. Or just considering what’s going on in Germany.

As Johnson’s “ride for life” comment suggests, as well as leaders’ earlier jokes about not wearing a shirt, overseas trips can give leaders a welcome sense of relief from the weight of their problems. at home.

“It’s clear his authority at home is shot,” Tim Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, said of Johnson. But support for Ukraine is widespread, he noted, giving Johnson, like other leaders, a popular cause on the world stage: “Everything about Ukraine is to some degree isolated from the normal policy.

Still, that might not last, and at some point the drawn-out war could become a political liability as it continues to drive up fuel prices and shortages. The leaders seemed well aware of this danger.

“Domestic politics become more difficult as the political and economic costs mount, and that’s exactly what Putin is counting on.” said Heather A. Conley, president of the German Marshall Fund. “For all these leaders, it’s absolutely fine to visit Kyiv and express their support. But it also needs to be explained to each of their countries and gain popular support at home, and that can be difficult and politically difficult.

When Macron arrived a few days ago for the G-7 summit at Chateau d’Elmau, the news alerts illuminating phones in France were not about his upcoming meetings with other heads of state. Instead, after Macron lost his absolute parliamentary majority this month by a wide margin, he faced a treacherous governing landscape that his own prime minister called “unprecedented” and a “risk to our country “.

Macron has said he wants to form a new majority by early July, but is unsure whether he can convince enough opposition MPs to support him. “The domestic political situation is rather uncertain, delicate and complicated,” said Francois Heisbourg, a political analyst who has in the past advised Macron on national security issues.

Although Macron is increasingly being compared to a lame duck president at home, he did not appear humble at the G-7 summit. On a crucial issue – price caps on Russian oil and gas exports – Macron deviated from the US proposal to reach a consensus among major oil importers, pushing instead for a deal with oil-producing countries .

Britain has also faced something of a populist eruption, as a referendum forced the country’s withdrawal from the European Union in 2020. That upheaval propelled Johnson into the prime minister’s office, but he now faces a series of headwinds, from outspoken rebels in his own party to an impending battle with the EU over Northern Ireland to a slowing economy.

Inflation in the UK is above 9%, the highest rate for 40 years. And just as the US braces for a possible recession and France faces protests from ‘yellow vests’ over economic conditions, the UK could be heading for a wave of strikes this summer amid unrest. growing worker.

“The cost of living crisis is putting pressure on households, for which they are asking for help. The government’s ability to help depends on how much money it has,” Bale said. “If they’re spending millions or billions to help Ukraine, maybe that’s money they can’t spend to protect people from inflation.”

Scholz, unlike his counterparts, has suffered domestically in part for his handling of the Ukraine crisis itself, with critics saying his politics are confusing and complaining he has been dragging his feet in delivering heavy weapons to Ukrainians.

His path was always going to be rocky, as he replaced a legendary ruler in Merkel, who was popular in foreign capitals and seen as the de facto ruler of Europe. But Scholz’s first six months in office have drawn criticism that he is falling short.

As Scholz hosted the G-7 summit this week, the first heavy weapons delivered by Germany arrived in Ukraine. But the Chancellor is facing calls to do more amid Ukraine’s losses on the ground, and his country’s political leaders are asking aloud what is holding him back.

Biden is in many ways rocked by the same forces as the rest, as the Russian war brings inflation and political hardship at home. Although many Americans strongly support aid to Ukraine, polls also suggest they are deeply worried about the economy.

The president and his party suffered a further setback last week when the Supreme Court struck down the 1973 landmark Roe vs. Wade opinion defending the right to abortion. Biden has urged voters to respond by electing more Democrats, but a growing number of people in his own party are complaining that the president is providing a grossly inadequate response to a national crisis.

These political undercurrents could result in significant losses in the November election, when agents of both parties expect Democrats to lose control of the House and possibly the Senate.

There is a long history of American presidents turning their attention abroad amid political unrest at home. A few weeks after his current trip to Europe, Biden is visiting Israel and Saudi Arabia for more diplomacy.

“In most of these countries, a leader has much more latitude in foreign policy than in domestic policy,” Haass said. “So Macron or Boris Johnson or for that matter Joe Biden can pretty much keep their foreign policy on track.”

But Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, warned that it would be a mistake for leaders to slack off on Moscow to focus on tackling inflation.

“Sometimes some politicians think that’s a compromise and that we need to focus on inflation now and not win the war, and that understates the damage to President Biden and the Democratic Party if, in November, it looks like it’s a defeat in Ukraine,” McFaul said. “Because the Republican narrative will be ‘defeated in Afghanistan, defeated in Ukraine, weak to China’ and that’s not a narrative they want to have. .”

Noack reported from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Loveday Morris contributed to this report.

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