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Europe's Economic Woes Shadow G8 Summit

Kent Klein
The leaders of the Group of Eight major economies plan to address Africa's food security when they meet at a mountain retreat near Washington, DC this week.  But, Europe's economic situation will demand much of the group's attention.
The European debt crisis, and its possible effects on the world economy, will be on the minds of the G8 leaders when they meet at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

French President Francois Hollande will be among the new leaders attending their first G8 meeting.  He will visit President Barack Obama at the White House before the summit.  Mr. Hollande replaces Nicolas Sarkozy, who was voted out of office after embracing unpopular austerity measures.

Few analysts expect the G8 leaders to support a major change in Europe's economic approach.

But with Greece's continued euro zone membership in jeopardy, Simon Johnson of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics says the G8 should address a bigger question.

"Well, hopefully, it's all on the table," said Johnson. "Hopefully, the Americans and the others will be pressing the Europeans to rethink the structure of the euro zone and to come up with something that is much more sustainable, for example, a more unified fiscal entity."

President Obama repeatedly has expressed confidence that Europe's leaders can solve the problem, and has been reluctant to commit U.S. money to a European bailout.

Economist Simon Johnson says that if Europe cannot avert a deeper crisis, Mr. Obama might not win reelection in November.

"The American economy looks somewhat precarious," he said. "The recovery is stuttering.  If there is a major sovereign debt disaster and/or financial market calamity in Europe, that cannot be good for President Obama's reelection prospects."

One G8 leader will be absent from Camp David.  Recently-inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has business to attend to at the Kremlin.  Prime Minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev will attend in his place.

One of the main agenda items at the G8 Summit will be food security in Africa.  President Obama is expected to announce a new plan to improve agricultural development on the continent.  He has invited the leaders of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania to Camp David to discuss the issue.

Kristin Wedding of Global Food Security Project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies says Mr. Obama is putting a spotlight on the issue.

"Food security has been really a cornerstone of President Obama's foreign policy agenda," said Wedding. "And by bringing over the four African leaders, he is really wanting to highlight the investments the United States has made in Africa, and the successes we have already seen."

The Obama administration made a three-year, $3.5 billion commitment in 2009 to long-term global food security and agricultural development.

Kristin Wedding expects the president to press for continued commitments from other G8 members, and for new donors to contribute.

"These are really long-term investments that are needed," she said. "So instead of just providing short food aid when there is a famine, these efforts are really intended to improve long-term food security."

Several of the G8 leaders will go directly from Camp David to Chicago for the NATO Summit.  The G8 summit initially was planned to be held in Chicago, but Mr. Obama moved it to Camp David, a more remote location that is less accessible to protesters.  

The G8 nations are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

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