Sicilians Race to Get Ready for Trump in Shadow of the Volcano

  • Meeting of richest nations due in Taormina May 26-27
  • First such event for Trump, May, Gentiloni, new French leader

A rumbling Sicilian volcano and ancient Greek theater are sure to greet President Donald Trump at the Group of Seven gathering in Italy. What else remains to be seen as preparations are barely getting under way.

In the tourist spot of Taormina, on the east coast of the island, air force engineers are building two helipads for leaders who will meet on May 26-27. But work has yet to start on refurbishing a congress center as a venue, and on a 2,000-year-old amphitheater where leaders will attend a concert with Mount Etna as a backdrop.

The Taormina amphitheatre with Mount Etna in the distance.

Photographer: Ihlow/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Security plans have been frozen by a dispute over the cost of deploying cameras to monitor demonstrators. Work on roads leading to the town and in the center started only earlier this week.

“We’ve started late but there’s no chaos,” Eligio Giardina, mayor of Taormina, said in a phone interview. “Like good Italians, we’ll catch up for lost time and everything that has to be done, will be done.”

But on the ground, authorities are locked in what one government official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly, called “a race against time.” A Rome-based diplomat quipped that the planning was “not necessarily on schedule.”

Trump Trade

The summit will bring together Trump, the U.K.’s Theresa May, Germany’s Angela Merkel, whoever gets elected president in France and of course the Italian host: Paolo Gentiloni.

For the former foreign minister, the G-7 may well prove the highlight of his term as a caretaker premier. He was picked by his predecessor, Matteo Renzi, who is looking for a way back to power in elections due early next year.

Gentiloni on Friday flagged his plan to ensure that the G-7 reaffirms free trade. That message is unlikely to sit well with Trump, who he’ll see in Washington on April 20. The U.S. president has struck a more protectionist tone, with his mantra “America First.”

“We need to keep betting on the free market and on free trade, the biggest economic engine of history,” Gentiloni told a business conference in Rome.

In the meantime, he’s mopping up some of the work Renzi left undone, including prep work for one of the biggest diplomatic events on the year.

‘Nothing Done’

“Renzi chose Taormina last summer, but almost nothing has been done since then,” said Franco Parisi, head of the local shopkeepers and restaurants’ association. “Let’s hope we catch up, it’s really important for the town’s image.” 

A plan to install 700 security cameras in Taormina and nearby towns was halted by the Interior Ministry after defense company Leonardo SpA revised its cost estimate up to 7 billion euros ($5.4 billion) from 4.5 billion euros, La Repubblica said. The office of the ministry’s representative in the nearby city of Messina confirmed the report. A Leonardo spokesman declined to comment.

More than 6,000 police and other security personnel will be deployed to enforce an off-limits “red zone” and monitor expected demonstrations which will be confined to the nearby town of Giardini Naxos.

Authorities are concerned the G-7 may spark violence similar to the riots which marred the G-8 summit in Genoa in 2001.

“My only worry is that there could be a repeat of Genoa,” mayor Giardina said. “But I trust the perfect organization of Italian security. Taormina itself will be armor-plated, no demonstrator will be able to get to the center of the town.”

Ex-Monastery Venue

Officials said the summit will likely take place in the luxury San Domenico Palace hotel, an ancient Dominican monastery. Events on the first day will include a concert by the orchestra of Milan’s La Scala opera house in the Greek theater, and a gala dinner hosted by the Italian head of state.

Italy, whose idea of inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Taormina was rejected by countries including Germany and the U.K., is hoping the summit will nonetheless lay the groundwork for Russia’s return to the fold.

On the eve of a visit to Moscow earlier this week, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano told Russian state news service Ria Novosti he hoped the Taormina summit “will be the last G-7 and that the next one, after Taormina, will be a G-8 with the presence of Russia.”

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