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Sausages, soundbites and Freedom Fries: Good and bad diplomacy from previous summits

Sometimes summits cause diplomatic incidents rather than solve them

Graham Keeley
Wednesday 16 June 2021 14:31 BST
France's President Emmanuel Macron takes part in a press conference on the final day of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay
France's President Emmanuel Macron takes part in a press conference on the final day of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay (AFP via Getty Images)

Presidents Biden and Putin are meeting in Geneva and are expectations are low of any agreement between the two countries.

But if the Switzerland summit ends up being fruitless, it won’t be the first high-profile meeting that falters, although there have been some good moments as well.

The Independent looks at some of most memorable moments from recent summits.

2001 - Laeken, Brussels, European Union summit

It was not defence, statehood or international trade which ensured this summit a footnote in history as a famous failure but food. When the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrived at the summit to discover that the European Food Safety Agency had not been awarded to Parma in Italy but to Helsinki in Finland, he exploded. Refusing to withdraw Parma’s candidacy, he attacked the Finns for failing to appreciate the delights of Parma ham and cheese. Earlier, the then French President Jacques Chirac made dubious comments about the Finns’ taste for reindeer and suggested that Sweden would be a good site for a “model agency” as the women were so pretty. The summit drew swiftly to a close.

2004 - Jacques Chirac, George W Bush and ‘Freedom Fries’

Relations between France and the U.S worsened after Paris refused to support plans to invade Iraq in 2003. They reached their nadir when the cafeteria in the US Congress renamed their chips Freedom Fries instead of French Fries. However, by 2004, the US and France were anxious to heal the wounds. Bush and Chirac met in France to mark the anniversary of the D-Day landings and Sea Island in Georgia to try to find some common ground. Independence for Lebanon, which was then in the clutches of a pro-Syrian puppet government, proved to be the cause which reunited the allies.

1998 - Northern Ireland, Good Friday Agreement

“A day like today is not for soundbites, really. But I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders. I really do,” said Tony Blair. With what seemed like a scripted sound bite, the then British prime minister signed the agreement that brought to an end most of the Troubles which had dominated Northern Ireland since the 1960s. The IRA and other loyalist paramilitary groups announced permanent ceasefires soon after, prisoner releases were agreed and caches of hidden weapons held on both sides of the bitter sectarian divide were decommissioned. As differences over the present Brexit deal on the Northern Ireland border have surfaced, critics have suggested these may threaten the progress made by the 1998 agreement, which was signed on Good Friday.

2016-present day - Endless Brexit summits

As the torturous negotiations over how Britain could extricate itself from the European Union dragged on, it seemed to some critics that a Second Coming was likely to happen before Brexit Day finally arrived. To summit watchers, it had it all. There was Theresa May’s stony face when greeted by less than friendly EU leaders. Accusations flew back and forth across the Channel from Brussels. Laws were bent or even broken by the UK government, depending on your point of view. Finally, at the eleventh hour, a deal was done and Britain was cut adrift. Suddenly, all the drama – or boredom – was over. Or was it? No, it seems as rows over sausages - part of the Brexit deal marred the G7 summit in Cornwall.

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