G7: A strong message on democratic values
British Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson has chosen one of England’s favorite holiday destinations to host the G7 summit, Cornwall’s southernmost county. And there seemed to be a holiday atmosphere at the top, at least as seen on TV.
But behind all this camaraderie, some serious differences inevitably surfaced. The issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol, under which Northern Ireland, although no longer part of the European Union (EU) after Brexit, continues to follow many EU rules, has been raised. The protocol provides for checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to prevent them from crossing the region and entering the single European market. Johnson has threatened to suspend the protocol for harming British interests, angering leaders such as Macron who want Johnson to honor the commitment made during the protocol negotiation.
United States (US) President Joe Biden has made it clear that he is deeply concerned that the dispute over Northern Ireland could endanger the deal, negotiated by his country, that ended the hostilities between Catholics and Protestants.
The pandemic, as one would expect, was in the discussions. The G7 countries agreed that something had to be done to help the poorest countries, which were unable to obtain vaccines. The result was a commitment to deliver a billion vaccines to the poorest countries until the end of 2022, which experts have widely described as insufficient.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, virtually attending the summit as a guest, called for support for Indian and South African advocacy for a relaxation of intellectual property rights protecting the manufacturing of Covid-related products. But there was no agreement on this controversial issue.
So, was the G7 summit nothing more than a pleasant holiday by the sea? Joe Biden didn’t think so. He saw the summit in broader terms than just dollars, pounds or even vaccines, important as they are. He saw it as demonstrating the contrast between democracies and autocracies. After the autocratic conduct of former President Donald Trump, Biden was signaling that he was firmly putting the United States on the side of democracies.
Modi did the same, describing India as a natural ally of the G7 and asserting that the values of democracy were “enshrined in the Constitution and civilizational values of India”. He supported the adoption of the summit’s “open societies declaration” defending free speech, offline and online.
India is undeniably a democracy. It holds regular elections, the exception being the period of Emergency. The election results were accepted by the defeated parties, as they were in the case of West Bengal, although not always graciously. It has a dynamic Constitution and the institutions that support democracy. But there must be doubts about one of the essential elements of democracy, freedom of speech. The Supreme Court justices who dismissed the case against journalist Vinod Dua and now the Delhi High Court granting bail to the three young activists have clearly expressed the justice’s point of view on free speech.
Could the Prime Minister’s public support for the values of democracy mean that he is now considering preventing his government from moving further towards limiting freedom of expression?
One step he could take is to tell his justice minister to ditch the new internet rules and focus on long-awaited reforms in the legal system that have deprived these young activists of their liberty for a period of time. whole year before giving them a deposit. It would really be preaching.
Opinions expressed are personal