The tourist destination at Lough Erne, not far from this Irish city where the White House press corps is staying, was chosen in part to showcase the progress Northern Ireland has made in the past 15 years of peace. Obama is scheduled to travel there Monday after his morning speech along Belfast’s waterfront, a few hours’ drive to the east.
An enduring recession
Europe’s economic recovery has been uneven. Much of the continent remains in recession, something Obama has frequently cited to explain the slow U.S. climb back from the most severe economic crisis in decades.
Austerity measures, driven by German concerns about inflation and rising deficit spending by a number of European nations in recent years, have restrained economic growth while failing to resolve the heavy public debt dragging economies in France, Italy and other G-8 powers, which together account for roughly half of the world’s economic activity.
But Merkel’s push for fiscal austerity now has a response in Asia, where Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on an ambitious program of government stimulus to revive the economy. “Abenomics,” as his mix of monetary and fiscal policies is known, will mark one edge of the global economic debate that has defined each of Obama’s G-8 meetings.
“The context for that discussion has changed a lot over the past year,” Caroline Atkinson, the senior director for international economic issues at the National Security Council, said last week, citing the inconsistent recovery across Europe and the steady, if slow, U.S. recovery, which continues to struggle with unemployment. “We expect that G-8 leaders will express a consensus that growth and jobs are a top priority.”
Expanding trade, particularly between the United States and the 27-nation European Union in the form of a new trade agreement, will be a key topic.
Complicating the discussion, though, will be the recent disclosure of the NSA’s broad data-collection effort, carried out with the cooperation of major U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies and affecting millions of Europeans who use those services.
Already concerned about how and where data is stored and protected, European leaders have bristled over the NSA program, raising the prospect of restrictions on the flow of information, data-storage rules and new protections for intellectual property as part of any new trade agreement.
All eyes on Syria
Western diplomats say the worsening war in Syria — and a collective international response — will dominate the summit’s security discussions.