Thank you Silvio Berlusconi. No, really, thank you.
You have managed to do what no world leader in years has done. You single-handedly have given the G8 press-pack such a wealth of rich headlines that regardless of what actually goes on at the summit in the earthquake-ravaged town of L’Aquila, we’ll be talking about this one for years.
It makes such a change not to be talking up the pre-summit agenda, which usually writes itself these days. You kind of knew already that reviving the economy, markets oversight, dollar imbalances, exit strategies, climate change and poor nation relief were going to be penciled in high on the summit talking points. That much most intelligent punters could have worked out for themselves.
But here in central Italy journalists have been jumping over themselves trying to outdo each other explaining just how chaotic the whole Shebang is. Although on the eve of the summit there is no doubt that print reporters have a distinct advantage over us broadcasters. They only have to find an internet connection to get their copy to the editors, whilst we are still struggling to get a satellite truck within one hundred miles of the event.
I know, you think I’m exaggerating just to make a point, don’t you? We'll just look at the facts then.
There will be a press pack of up to 3,500 journalists attending the summit and yet where are we all being housed? Simple, everywhere but L’Aquila! As I write I’m in Chieti, which is exactly 147 kilometers east of the summit centre. I am not alone. Most hacks are holed up somewhere within a radius of up to 150km. In fact, I understand that many have just given up trying to get in and out of the mountainous L’Aquila and are now sampling the G8 chaos from the capital Rome, which is of course only 117km away.
Don’t get me wrong, I really do admire the Italian Prime Minister’s ambition. Housing a summit of around 40 of the world’s leaders (for G8 read G30-something), representing 90 percent of the globe’s GDP in a town that has been shattered by a savage earthquake only two months earlier can be seen as a very noble aim. Bringing desperately needed aid and focus to a town that saw over 300 people killed and over 50,000 made homeless is undoubtedly a good thing.
Putting world leaders in a barracks for finance police rather than a glitzy Mediterranean paradise is a welcome dose of reality for “sobriety and solidarity,” as Berlusconi puts it.
The problem is, it doesn’t work. It never was going to work.
I toured the town yesterday. It scared me. It was a ghost town. Whole avenues, piazzas, etc were empty apart from army, police and other security personnel. Beautiful monuments were being held up by scaffolds, sides of building were simply missing.
On the outskirts of this destruction I saw real tragedy which put into perspective the mild irritation the G8 circus is suffering. Thousands of people living in tents, caravans and other assorted temporary accommodation. And yet those we spoke to still believe Berlusconi and his Government have done the right thing by bringing the G8 to town.
I can’t help disagreeing. I think he has potentially made the Italian-held summit a chaotic mess which will only reflect badly on the country in the longer run.