Column: Students meet the world’s leaders

In the midst of political turmoil: Sheffield students at the G7 Summit
In the midst of political turmoil: Sheffield students at the G7 Summit

As an ordinary student, you would not normally think that you would be in the same room as prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister Theresa May, President Emanuel Macron and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

This happened for us and six other students. As part of the Global Leadership Initiative at the University of Sheffield, a team of two lecturers and eight students went to the G7 Summit in Charlevoix as policy analysts for a journal called Global Policy.

Student Samuel Ribansky with French President Macron

Student Samuel Ribansky with French President Macron

We spent the week of the 44th G7 Summit in Quebec City, Canada, observing and writing about the G7. While the leaders were based in La Malbaie in Charlevoix, we were in the International Media Centre in Quebec. Here, we were among hundreds of other journalists, researchers and advocators, following every development of the G7 as they transpired.

As we arrived to the International Media Centre at 8am in the morning of day one there were big screens that showed the arrival of the political leaders and their schedule throughout the day. While most leaders arrived in Charlevoix a day before the summit began, it was no surprise that Donald Trump decided to arrive at 10 o’clock in the morning as the last G7 leader on the first day of the summit. We established a camp of ten tables near the main screens, where we followed each arrival and bilateral meeting closely as we were writing blogs for Global Policy.

Being among all the journalists, researchers and political advocates, it was a great opportunity to network and socialise. For example, I talked to a couple of Danish journalists about my blog, while another student was asked to interview for CTV, a Canadian television channel.

When we decided to leave the media centre at around 9pm, we were told to stay there as protests against the G7 and Trump were taking place just outside. People were lying on the ground in protest while others were burning all the flags of the G7 countries. We had to wait until the protests had calmed down before we could leave. We were finally let out after a 12-hour long day, when we got a final email from the G7 that we could attend the press briefings for Trudeau, May, Conte, Macron and Abe.

In the international media centre in Quebec we were among hundreds of others following G7.

On Day two, The 44th G7 Summit in Charlevoix was full of chaos, scandal and excitement. US President and former reality TV star, Donald Trump, arrived late to the Gender Equality Advisory Council – which formed the core of Canada’s G7 summit, and then proceeded to deliver a bizarre and incomprehensible press conference.

After a good 30 minutes sat in shock, trying to decipher what Trump had actually said, half of our party left to join the press conferences in La Malbaie, whilst the other half stayed in Quebec City to see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The stunning bus ride through the Charlevoix region of Quebec was full of speculation as to what the G7 leaders had managed to agree upon.

We managed to secure front row seats for the Canadian host’s press conference and applause echoed around the room when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that the G7 members had come to an agreement on the final communiqué, which all parties had signed. He seemed thoroughly relieved and although the reporters seemed impressed that something had actually been achieved, their questions focused primarily on the potential trade war with the USA. Trudeau held firm, and reiterated that they would not bow to US tariffs.

Following Trudeau’s press conference, we caught the end of Prime Minister Theresa May’s, who managed to fend off questions for a meagre 15 minutes, in a room a fraction of the size of Trudeau’s, highlighting the impending irrelevance of a post-Brexit Britain. French President Emmanuel Macron was a much more impressive sight, laughing, posing for selfies and discussing with reporters long after his 45-minute press conference had finished. Overall, the G7 Summit was chaotic and huge amounts of fun. The renowned Canadian friendliness and warmth were ever present, the food was fabulous, the scenery was sensational, and the political intrigue was scandalous.

Two of the students at Canadian PM Justin Trudeau's press conference

Two of the students at Canadian PM Justin Trudeau's press conference