Closed G8 summit live coverage: Syria dominates as leaders gather

Differences between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other leaders of the Group of Eight nations over Syria are likely to dominate the first day of the summit at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland as host David Cameron seeks to keep the focus on trade, tax and transparency.

By John Aglionby, Lina Saigol and Lindsay Whipp. All times are BST

The G8 leaders don’t arrive at the summit until 3.45pm but there’s plenty going on before then. First up is Barack Obama, who at about 9.30am gives a speech in Belfast. He’ll be focusing on Northern Ireland rather than G8 issues.

Then at 11am, David Cameron, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council President Herman van Rompuy hold a press conference to announce the formal start of negotiations between the EU and US on a wideranging trade deal

The main action starts at 4.45pm with the first working session, which focuses on the global economy and rolls into a working dinner at 8pm.

Casting a shadow over all these events will be the cavernous differences between Vladimir Putin and most of the other leaders on Syria. At a press conference in Downing Street with Cameron yesterday, Putin was very uncompromising, insisting he was backing the country’s “legitimate” government.

Cameron was diplomatic but across the Irish Sea in Dublin, Canadian PM and fellow G8 member Stephen Harper, pulled few punches. He criticised Putin for backing the “thugs of the Assad regime” and played down the chances of the leaders finding a breakthrough.

Jamie Smyth, one of the FT team in Northern Ireland, has sent sent this colour from the province:

Belfast is in lock down with roads closed, hundreds of police on the streets and US secret service personnel swarming over the Waterfront Hall ahead of President Obama’s arrival this morning to give a speech on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Ever since David Cameron choose to host the G8 summit in Northern Ireland- a region prone to civil disturbances and dissident republican terrorist attacks- security fears have dominated preparation for the event. No expenses has been spared with local police purchasing unmanned drones to patrol the skies, erecting a four miles security fence around the Lough Erne golf resort and 3,600 police officers from other parts of the UK drafted into Northern Ireland to support 5,000 local officers.

The final bill for the G8 policing and security operation is likely to reach £50m – that is £10m more than the amount that Barclays Bank has estimated the Northern Ireland economy will benefit by hosting the summit.

But as G8 leaders gather today at Lough Erne the so called “ring of steel” is looking overcooked with police officers outnumbering the 1,500 protesters at the first big demonstration held on Saturday in Belfast city centre. Another protest march is expected in Enniskillen tonight. But the numbers of demonstrators are expected to be similarly low given the geographical remoteness of the town and, what local police describe privately as a healthy respect for the capabilities of the Northern Ireland police service to deal with street demonstrations.

The FT’s Gideon Rachman says it is surprise that the G8 is still meeting. It was formed in the 1970s, and its membership reflects that era.

Chris Giles, the FT’s economics editor, says the G8 summit will also be coloured by the absence of arguably the most important person in global economics at the moment, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. He will be in Washington at the Fed’s monthly meeting. HIs next major speech is on Wednesday – the day after the summit

US First Lady Michelle Obama is now introducing her husband before his speech to mainly teenager in Belfast. She described leadership as “stepping outside your comfort zone”. Let’s hope the G8 leaders are paying attention.

There are more than 8,000 police on duty

George Soros and Gunilla Carlsson, chairman of the Open Society Foundations and the Swedish minister for international development co-operation, argue in today’s FT that the G8′s Development agenda must include measurable targets for rule of law

Why? Because an estimated 4bn people live outside the protection of the law, mostly because they are poor. They can easily be cheated by employers, driven from their land, preyed upon by the powerful and intimidated by violence. But in places where people can access justice, they are pulling themselves out of poverty and into better lives.

They conclude:

Ahead lies the even greater challenge of getting the 190 members of the UN General Assembly to embrace the idea of development goals focused on good governance and transparency, notions that in too many countries are too often honoured in the breach.

Those governments need to hear now from their own people that this is an opportunity too great to miss.

Barack Obama has started speaking at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. He says he wants to talk about “the future we can build together”.

Obama is using his enviable soaring rhetoric to wow his audience – praising the people of Northern Ireland for having the courage to ensure “clenched fists gave way to outstretched hands”

Obama says Northern Ireland can be an example to the rest of the world, in conflict areas where people seen the province as their “blueprint to follow”.

Obama says: “Peace is not just about politics. it’s about attitudes.” Again, one for the G8 leaders to take note of

Obama: “The terms of peace may be negotiated by political leaders but the fate of peace is up to each of us.”

As with all major summits there is confusion as when anything is going to happen as schedules slip. Here’s the latest from Peter Spiegel, FT Brussels bureau chief, on when the EU-US trade deal negotiations are going to be launched.

For those who have been following the big EU-US trade deal, which is off to a rough start after France on Friday won a temporary exclusion of its film and music industry from the talks despite US objections, the formal kick-off is scheduled for this afternoon. The European Commission says a press conference is scheduled for 3pm featuring the EU’s two presidents – José Manuel Barroso of the European Commission and Herman Van Rompuy of the European Council – along with David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and Barack Obama, his US counterpart.


As long as walls still stand, we’ll need more… young people who imagine the world as it should be and imagine something different and have the courage to make it happen.

Obama concludes with a message to Northern Ireland’s young people but clearly speaking to a wider audience:

“To those who choose the path of peace, the US will support you every step of the way. We’ll always be a wind at your back.”

Pope Francis and Cameron have exchanged letters on the G8 summit.

In his letter Cameron writes:

“As president of the G8, I aim to help secure the growth and stability on which the prosperity and welfare of the whole world depends. To do this, we must tackle the conditions that cause poverty, stiffen the sinews of responsible capitalism, and strengthen governance and transparency.”

In response, Pope Francis writes that he want to highlight

“… what is implicit in all political choices, but can sometimes be forgotten: the primary importance of putting humanity, every single man and woman, at the cnetre of all political and economic activity, both nationally and internationally, because man is the truest and deepest resource for politics and economics, as well as their ultimate end.”

Some eurozone leaders have recently said that the region’s crisis is pretty much over. columnist Wolfgang Münchau is not so sure. He predicts that the latest banana skin will be found in the bond markets

Bond market sentiment is, of course, hard to forecast. But it only takes minuscule changes in perceived default probabilities to produce big shifts in market interest rates. This is why we have observed long stretches of self-fulfilling sovereign debt rallies and downturns. Rising rates give rise to a vicious circle because investors question the borrower’s debt sustainability and want to be compensated for the higher risk. Likewise, when rates fall, a virtuous circle sets in.

In addition to a shift in expectation about US interest rates, there is quite a bit of bad news still to come out of the eurozone itself. It is hard to overestimate the negative impact of the rise in value added tax the Italian government is considering to finance a cut in property taxes. Greece, Cyprus and Portugal all remain on an unsustainable path. So does Spain.

What we can predict with a high degree of probability, however, is that once sovereign yields rise again, the eurozone will not be prepared.

The FT has published a special report today on the G8. In the introduction, the FT’s chief foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman, says the organisation remains relevant because:

It has become apparent that the G20′s biggest merit – the size and diversity of tis membership – is also its biggest flaw.

Gideon argues that while the “larger group has proved too disparate to make much progress, by contrast:

“The G8 is a smaller and more coherent group. At this month’s summit it will strive to demonstrate that it is also both relevant and powerful.”

Meanwhile the FT editorial on the G8 focuses on tax reform, arguing that a “global deal is a tall order but the right goal”. States should not wait until that is achieved, however, to act:

They can amend ill-designed national rules, plus bilateral treaties whose aim of no double taxation has sometimes had the effect of “double no-taxation”, where companies pay no tax in either country. When profits are in fact not taxed abroad, they should not escape the domestic tax net altogether.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, has become the chief cheerleader for the G8, or at least on corporate tax reform. In an article for the FT, he writes that:

“As the G8 leaders gather in Northern Ireland, some people are questioning the value of these high-level meetings. But the G8 and other international forums are precisely the places to decide on these kinds of highly complex, interconnected issues. And this week’s debate on tax will underline the fundamental point: that it is for governments to determine the rules. And when they do, companies will respond.”

More from FT Brussels bureau chief Peter Spiegel:

Just how tense are things between France and her European partners after Paris insisted on carving out the French film and music industries from the highly-touted EU-US trade deal, to be launched at the G-8 this afternoon?

In an interview with our friends and rivals over at the New York Times , José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU executive arm tasked with negotiating the deal for the European side, used uncharacteristically harsh language to go after the government of François Hollande on the issue:

“It’s part of this anti-globalization agenda that I consider completely reactionary,” Mr Baroso told the Times. “Some say they belong to the left, but in fact they are culturally extremely reactionary.”

More from Peter Spiegel:

Olivier Bailly, a spokesman for the European Commission, said on Monday that Barroso’s comments were aimed at campaigners who had harshly criticised Brussels’ stance on the issue and not specifically the Hollande government.

Jamie Smyth, the FT’s Ireland correspondent, has filed a news story on Obama’s speech. Here are his more colourful thoughts:

A Mexican wave, cheering and rapturous applause greeted President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle at the Waterfront Hall this morning. Belfast is well used to hosting US presidents- Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary were regular visitors. But this was Mr Obama first visit to Northern Ireland and he made an impact.

In a speech full of references to his own humble beginnings and the history US civil rights struggle, Mr Obama wooed the 2,000 strong crowd of mostly schoolchildren with an impassioned plea for the young generation to build peace and tackle sectarian division.

“Someone who looked like me had a hard time casting a ballot rather than being on a ballot [in the US]. But over time hearts and minds changed,” he told the audience.

He said Northern Ireland had become a successful “blueprint” for people struggling to resolve conflicts all across the world. It provides hope that even the most intractable conflicts could end and the US will stand with those working for peace, he said.

“Ultimately peace is not just about politics it is about attitudes. It is about creating a sense of empathy,” said Mr Obama, who urged young people to tears down the peace walls that continue to blight Northern Ireland’s main cities.

His positive message resonated with the young audience, many of who were not even born when the IRA declared their first ceasefire in 1994.

“I liked the fact that he talked a lot about his background and how everyone can make a difference,” said Abbey McLaughlin, a 16 year old pupil at St Dominick’s school. “It was a very charismatic speech.”

Lee Hallam, a 17 year student at Lagan College- one of the few schools set up to integrate Protestants and Catholics, said it was a very moving speech because Mr Obama and his wife Michelle- both talked about where they were from and their experiences.

Since the peace process began 20 years ago in Northern Ireland, US president’s have come and gone, however, the peace walls- huge ugly metal or brick structures separating Catholic and Protestants- continue to scar the landscape and perpetuate the psychological divide between communities. Demolishing these structures and the lingering sectarianism in many communities is the huge task facing political leaders and society in Northern Ireland over coming years.

It wouldn’t be a major summit without activists wearing masks of the leaders, courtesy of the EnoughFoodIF campaign…

If you’re wondering about the scale of the protests around the G8, here’s a tweet from the BBC’s Mark Simpson:

We’re expecting the Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy press con to start any moment. Trade the big agenda item:

The key meeting today is arguably not any of the G8 summit sessions but the Putin-Obama bilateral. This is expected between the first G8 session and the leaders’ working dinner at 8pm

From FT Ireland correspondent Jamie Smyth in Belfast.

Strange things happen to former political enemies when US presidents come to Belfast.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and Sammy Wilson, Northern Ireland finance minister, were seen getting caught up in the emotion of the moment when Obama arrived at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast to deliver a speech on the peace process – joining in the MExican wave that swept the hall.

Sinn Fein and the DUP may share power in the Northern Ireland executive but DUP ministers are rarely photographed cavorting with Adams, who continues to be deeply distrusted by many people within the Unionist community.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has started his press conference. On the key issue of tax evasion and avoidance he said Brussels wants the world to take on “those who do not respect the rules of the game and hold them accountable”, tackle the world’s “dark chambers of corruption” and ensure that “everybody pays his fair share in a responsible way”.

Herman van Rompuy, who is alongside Barroso at the press conference says the EU is “no longer under existential threat”

Barroso talking at length about how he is “very confident” about the planned EU-US trade talks that are expected to be launched next months but says little new beyond what the EU agreed last Friday.

On Syria, Van Rompuy says the recent US announcement on the regime’s use of chemical weapons and Obama’s willingness to arm the rebels reinforces the need for a UN verification mission to determine the truth.

He adds that he hopes the G8 will result in a diplomatic breakthrough, in as much as it can “contribute to the launch of the Geneva II process that we are all calling for” – a reference to the talks that the US and Russia have proposed.

Meanwhile France’s ruling Socialist party has lashed out at Barroso’s criticism (see 11.26am below) of Paris’s insistence at keeping film and music from the EU’s trade negotiations with the US.

France’s ruling Socialist party has lashed out at the EU’s criticism over Paris’s demands to exclude films and music from upcoming trade negotiations with the US.
Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, a national secretary of François Hollande’s Socialist party, said remarks made earlier on Monday by José Manuel Barroso, head of the European Commission, were “bewildering and intolerable” and that he should “retract his comments or quit”.

US President Barack Obama (CL) and British Prime Minister David Cameron (CR) with schoolchildren on a visit Enniskillen Integrated Primary School in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, on June 17, 2013 ahead of he official start of the G8 summit at the nearby Lough Erne resort. Summit host Prime Minister David Cameron, who had initially hoped for talks to focus on finance and trade, said Monday his priority was to ensure a peace conference on the Syria conflict takes place later this year.

Markets update: Equity markets – perhaps sensibly! – are ignoring the G8 and instead are focusing on the Federal Reserve’s meeting this week. Neil Dennis of the FT’s markets team writes:

Taper tensions have been put on hold as equity markets across Europe and Asia register gains and emerging market assets claw back some lost ground.

Investors will be hoping for clarity from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke on Wednesday on the US central bank’s plans for the easing and eventual withdrawal of monetary stimulus. This will set the parameters for trade in the following weeks.

More on the Barroso-Van Rompuy press conference from Vanessa Houlder, the FT’s tax correspondent, who was there.

José Manuel Barroso, said he was “very confident” about the prospects for the EU-US trade deal negotiations,. He expected negotiations which will begin in July to last about two years.

“Let’s be frank two years ago who would have bet that we – the United States and Europe – would have been able to launch this free trade and investment partnership? Very few would have bet that.”

He said the talks would be “huge negotiations” with many sensitive issues for both sides. “What is important is the political will on both sides. I.believe this can be a game changer.”

He said he was delighted that he European union had agreed a broad mandate to start negotiations. France lifted its objections on Friday after ministers agreed to exclude cultural l industries from negotiations.

“We explicitly agreed Commission can come back with additional negotiating directives at a later stage. So we can go back to the council and request it be covered should he should progress in discussions with United States warrant this.….I hope this is understood by our American partners.”

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso (L) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy at their joint news conference before the start of the G8

The UK government has released this interactive graphic on its flickr feed what it sees as the benefits of a EU-US free trade agreement. Do you agree?

It’s good to see EU Council President Herman van Rompuy is so optimistic. I wonder how many of his wishes he’ll get.

And in the interests of inter-Brussels fairness, here’s European Council President José Manuel Barroso

Should China be a member of the G8? Nick Butler argues very strongly in a blogpost for the FT that the answer is “Yes”.

As things stand the Chinese are treated as tradesmen, people with whom we are happy to do business – borrowing money and selling goods – so long as they use the back door and don’t expect to come for dinner. It is hard to think of an attitude more outdated or self defeating. The global economy, like the world energy market, is singular and indivisible. If the leaders of the G8 want progress and renewed growth they should swallow their prejudices and invite the Chinese to the table.

Jon Snow, presenter of the UK’s Channel 4 News, agrees with Nick Butler – and goes further, saying India should be included too. He’s either not read the FT’s Gideon Rachman (see 10.58 below), or just disagrees.

Obama, van Rompuy, Barroso, Cameron press conference has just begun to launch what could be “the biggest trade deal in history”, Cameron says.

“This is a once in a generation prize and we are determined to seize it” – Cameron

Barroso: “It will be the start of a joint undertaking of real strategic importance”

Barroso: Regulators need to build bridges faster and more systematically

Barroso calls on legislators, regulators and civil society to play a constructive role in the negotiations

Barroso: It won’t be an easy task but we’ll keep our eyes on the prize

Obama: EU-US relationshsip is the largest in the world. Trans-Atlantic trade is almost $1tn a year in goods and service

Obama: Broad support on both sides will help us work through the difficult issues

Obama: America and Europe have done extraordinary things before and I’m confident we can do it again.

Obama: Mustn’t downsize ambitions just for the sake of getting a deal

Obama: Trade is critical but not a silver bullet.

Obama doesn’t expect negotiations to be trouble free and expects that the leaders will have to intervene from time to time to break the log-jam

Van Rompuy: Negotiations show our political will to further wealth and prosperity, and create more jobs

Van Rompuy: Positive ramifications will go beyond our economies

Van Rompuy: The Atlantic is not the past. It is also the future.

Van Rumpoy says there’s too much at stake not to fund solutions to the difficulties that are bound to come up

Leaders don’t take any questions – Cameron says those will be allowed at the end of the summit. Cameron leaves the stage to a pat on the back from Obama. Big smiles all round

Can anyone explain the summit’s fashion code: At the UK-EU-US press conference none of the leaders wore ties and Cameron didn’t even wear a jacket. Host’s prerogative? Something else? Will the jackets come on for the meetings?

At the press conference Cameron estimated that a trade deal could benefit the EU by £100bn, the US by £80bn and the rest of the world by £85bn. He did not define “benefit” or the time period for the said benefits.

With so much G8 attention on Syria – it’ll be the topic of conversation at tonight’s working dinner, Syrian Presidnet Bashar al-Assad has finally decided to respond to the US announcement that it believes Damascus has used chemical weapons and that Obama is now willing to supply the rebels with arms.

Reuters reports that Assad has told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Europe will “pay the price” if it arms the rebels. “If the Europeans deliver weapons, the backyard of Europe will become terrorist and Europe will pay the price for it,” he said, adding that delivering weapons would result in the export of “terrorism” to Europe.

A novelist’s view of how the world has moved on in the last 25 years

10 Downing Street has tweeted a photo of the meeting between EU leaders and Obama.

Boris Johnson, mayor of London and darling of many in the UK Conservative party, has waded into the should-the-UK-arm-the-Syrian-rebels debate. He wrote in a Daily Telegraph column it would be “pressing weapons into the hands of maniacs”. But Cameron is not without his allies in the party, as the FT reports.

Here (left to right) are Van Rompuy, Obama, Barroso and Cameron at the press conference that launched negotiations for what the leaders hope will result in the world’s biggest ever trade deal.

The leaders are now taking turns to formally arrive at the summit – it’s all a bit bizarre considering most of them have not only been here for some time but had meaningful meetings to boot. Still, I guess it takes care of another half an hour.

More from Jamie Smyth, FT Ireland correspondent, on the summit security.

Lough Erne 2013 is no Genoa 2001, an occasion when tens of thousands of anti-globalisation protesters went on the rampage at a G8 summit and one demonstrator was shot dead by police.

By midday today in Enniskillen just a handful of tents had been erected in the nearby protest camp and the 8,000 police on patrol in the region vastly outnumbered demonstrators. The relative lack of protests is causing questions about the £50m security price tag.

Matt Baggot, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told the FT this afternoon he had no regrets about the huge scale of the security operation.

“We are talking about the eight world leaders here. This isn’t a parish council meeting,” he said. “If you look back at the history of G8s in the past there have been many, many hundreds of arrests and tens of thousands of protesters. “I’d rather have security that wasn’t necessary than security which wasn’t good enough.”

Mr Baggot said the remoteness of the Lough Erne venue and ongoing protests in Turkey may have caused fewer people to travel to the G8 than security forces initially envisaged. Six weeks ago the PSNI estimated 40,000 protesters would descend on Northern Ireland. On Saturday just 1,500 people protested in Belfast.

A protest march is due through Enniskillen to the security fence surrounding the Lough Erne resort in the next few hours. The police are expecting the march to pass off peacefully.

We’re signing off the live blog but follow the FT’s continuing G8 coverage as leaders hold their first formal talks and working dinner. Thanks very much.