Friday, June 14, 2024

Being facially expressive may make you a better negotiator – research

Nilima Marshall, PA Science Reporter
Thu, 13 June 2024 

A poker face may be seen as a useful tool to have in negotiations, but in some cases, it could also lose you the game.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) found that being pleasant and facially expressive may also make someone a better negotiator.

The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, are based on an analysis of more than 1,500 conversations focusing on muscle movements in the face, such as smiles, eyebrow raises, nose wrinkles and lip corner pulls.

The team led by Bridget Waller, professor of evolution and social behaviour at NTU’s Department of Psychology, also found facially expressive people were seen as more likeable and socially successful.

She said this research could explain why humans have more complex facial expressions than any other species.

Prof Waller said: “Our comparisons between humans and other primates show that humans produce more facial movement on the whole and have more expressive faces.

“Our research shows that being expressive makes you more likeable, which might make it easier to live in social groups, which is a clear evolutionary advantage.”

In the first part of the study, the researchers showed recorded clips of conversations to more than 170 people and asked them to rate how “readable” (in terms of emotions and expressions) and likeable the subjects were in the videos.

The team then conducted a follow-up analysis of unscripted Zoom chats between 1,456 strangers, where conversation partners rated how much they liked each other.

The researchers found that, on average, people produced 71 individual facial movements per minute during these social interactions.

Expressive people were found to be more liked both by independent raters and by their conversation partner.

The scientists also set up a conflict scenario where people were offered a bad deal.

Prof Waller said: “We asked the participant to decide how to split a monetary reward between themselves and the experimenter – who was masquerading as a participant.

“Our experimenter offered an unfair split – taking 80% of the reward.

“We measured how well they negotiated down from this, and what they eventually agreed to.

“Roughly half our participants agreed to taking less than 50% (poor negotiation) and the other half split the reward equally (good negotiation).”

Those who were both agreeable and expressive in their negotiations were found to achieve a better outcome.

Dr Eithne Kavanagh, research fellow and lead author on the study at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “This is the first large-scale study to examine facial expression in real-world interactions.

“It suggests that more expressive people are more successful at attracting social partners and in building relationships.

“It also could be important in conflict resolution.”

Prof Waller said that facial expressions are mainly used for social communication, although they are often associated with emotions.

She said: “We do not think there is much evidence that facial expressions signal emotion and instead think of them as conversational or interactive cues.”

The work is part of a project known as Facediff (Individual differences in facial expressivity: Social function, facial anatomy and evolutionary origin), which is funded by the European Research Council.
French elections: who are the key players and what is at stake?

Jon Henley Europe correspondent
Thu, 13 June 2024 

Jordan Bardella, president of the far-right National Rally. Some observers predict the party could almost treble its deputies in the French parliament after the summer elections.Photograph: Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters

France’s snap legislative election is one of the most consequential in decades for both the country and the rest of Europe, potentially propelling the far-right National Rally (RN) to a parliamentary majority and therefore into government.

The two-round election will take place on 30 June and 7 July. How will it work, what are the stakes and what is the result likely to be?
What’s the story and why does it matter?

Taking almost everyone, including most of his party, by surprise, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, called snap legislative elections in the aftermath of his centrist Renaissance party’s crushing defeat by RN, the party of Marine Le Pen, in the European parliamentary elections.

No French president has ever dissolved parliament with his party at barely 15% in the polls, and it seems very likely that RN, which Le Pen has spent years detoxifying and which scored more than 31% in the EU ballot, will boost its tally of deputies.

If RN does well enough to hold an absolute majority in the national assembly, the consequences could be dramatic: Macron would have to nominate an RN prime minister and most of French domestic policy would be run by the far-right party.
How do the elections work?

Parliamentary elections in France are normally held every five years; the next ones were due in 2027, a month or so after the next presidential elections, in which Macron, having served two terms, would not be able to stand.

The 577 deputies (or MPs) in the assembly are elected by universal suffrage using a two-round simple majority system. To win in the first round, a candidate must get more than 50% of ballots cast and the support of at least 25% of registered voters (so turnout matters).

If no candidate achieves that, the two highest scorers plus any other candidate who collected at least 12.5% of total registered voters, advance to a second round of voting seven days later. In that round, the candidate who obtains the most votes is elected.

A handful of MPs are usually elected in the first round. The vast majority of second-round contests are two-candidate races, but depending on turnout, some can involve three or even four candidates, leaving some scope for tactical agreements between parties to withdraw.

The system was designed to make it harder for candidates from parties on the extremes of the political spectrum to be elected. However, the increasing mainstreaming of RN over the past two decades has ensured the current parliament includes 88 RN deputies. (To get an outright majority they would need 290 deputies.)
What are the roles of parliament, government and president?

Under the French constitution, the government “determines and conducts the policy of the nation”, parliament passes laws and can overturn the government, and the head of state is supposedly an arbiter ensuring the “regular functioning of public powers”.

The president, as guarantor of “national independence, territorial integrity and respect for treaties” is in charge of foreign, European and defence policy, while the government – with the backing, or not, of parliament – runs domestic policy.

That means pensions, unemployment benefit, education, tax, immigration and nationality requirements, public employment, law and order, employment legislation all fall, in principle, under parliament’s and the government’s remit.

By convention, and because they do not want to see their government overturned by a no confidence vote or a motion of censure by parliament, presidents invariably appoint a prime minister and cabinet that will have majority support in the lower house.

When president and parliamentary majority are politically aligned, this arrangement functions relatively smoothly. When they are not (known as cohabitation) things are harder. It is difficult to conceive of a stormier cohabitation than Macron and an RN majority.
Who are the contenders and what are their chances?

Macron’s Renaissance group is the largest in parliament with just over 170 MPs. It has a centrist, pro-European, pro-business platform, but its popular support, along with that of the president, has slumped after a string of unpopular reforms. It is polling at 19%.

RN, the biggest single opposition party, has been disciplined since winning the 2022 elections but for all its normalisation remains at core a populist, nationalist, far-right party with plans for a “national preference” for French citizens and billions in unfunded spending. It is polling at 33%.

Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) is a putative left-green alliance between Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s hard-left France Unbowed (LFI), the Socialists (PS), Communists and Greens (EELV). They do not always see eye to eye but have agreed to field one candidate between them in every constituency. If it can keep its act together, polls suggest it could score up to 30%.

Les Républicains (LR), the centre-right party of Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, has 68 MPs but is in meltdown after a pledge by its chairman, Éric Ciotti, to form an electoral pact with RN (the parties would either field joint candidates or agree not to stand against one another). Most of the rest of the party strongly disagrees. Polling is at 7%.
What might the outcome be?

The two-round electoral process makes it hard to confidently estimate seat numbers, but experts predict RN could almost treble its tally of deputies, though most likely fall short of an outright majority, while Renaissance’s total could halve.

Such a result would leave Macron facing three years of an even more fractured and hostile parliament, having to cut difficult deals with opposition parties to form a government and pass laws, leading to almost certain legislative deadlock.

That would create big problems for France but might be less damaging than an outright RN majority. An RN-controlled parliament, most likely with the 28-year-old party president, Jordan Bardella, as prime minister, would aim to push through its domestic agenda.

That could include raising public spending, expelling more migrants, halting family reunification, reversing a planned gas price rise, and privatising public TV and radio. Some other plans, including “national preference”, could run into constitutional obstacles.

The ramifications would be European. Although the president would nominally retain control over foreign policy, measures such as aid to Ukraine could be jeopardised because parliament’s backing would be needed to finance any suport as part of France’s budget

French Film and TV Business Braces for Fallout as Possibility of Far-Right Wins Loom in Upcoming Elections

Elsa Keslassy
Fri, 14 June 2024 at 1:11 pm GMT-6·5-min read

The historic gains of the French far-right party Rassemblement National (National Rally, or RN) during the European elections on June 9 and French President Emmanuel Macron’s shock decision to dissolve the National Assembly have not only propelled the country’s film and TV industry into a state of panic but are causing ripples across the economy.

Boasting the second-biggest economy in Europe, France saw its stock exchange take a hit this week amid talks that Marine Le Pen’s far-right party had a solid chance of performing strongly in the parliamentary elections set for June 30 and July 7. The three biggest banks in France, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale, have lost between 12-16% in value this week, according to Reuters.

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In addition to bank stocks that have slumped, concerns about the country’s political crisis have also driven the biggest weekly jump in investor demand for government bonds since 2011, amid the euro debt crisis, per Reuters. The CAC 40 equity index in Paris also dropped by 2.4%.

The prospects of seeing Macron lose control of the National Assembly and government has had a domino effect on the country’s economic standing. Speaking on the local radio Franceinfo on Friday, finance minister Bruno Le Maire raised the possibility of a new debt crisis in case the Rassemblement National wins the parliamentary elections, drawing hypothetical comparisons with the aftermath of Liz Truss, the former U.K. prime minister whose short 44 day term in office caused a spike in the cost of government bonds in 2022.

While Macron’s pro-business and pro-Europe agenda had reassured investors since he took office in 2017, the Rassemblement National is having the opposite effect. Some of party’s suggested measures include a cut in sales taxes and lowering the retirement age, while its stance on Europe remains blurry.

Francois Godard, senior media analyst at Enders and author of the recently published book “Germany, France and Postwar Democratic Capitalism: Expert Rule,” says France’s standing with international financiers is crucial to the local economy because the “country is Europe’s primary destination for foreign direct investments.” Addressing potential consequences on the French media industry and ongoing consolidation, Godard said “if foreign financiers start deserting, it will put French companies in a difficult situation to borrow money because interest rates will inevitably go up.” France is home of some of Europe’s biggest media groups, including Vivendi, Banijay and Mediawan.

Discussing the potential impact of a far right win on the film and TV industry, insiders say the nationalistic party would certainly attempt to privatize public broadcasting services, including France Televisions. But unlike in Italy, where the country’s far right prime minister Giorgia Meloni gained control of the local broadcaster Rai last year without much of a fight, the Rassemblement National would face tremendous backlash in France where the industry is predominantly aligned with the left and center. “In France, we have a strong culture of public broadcasters, we have celebrated its independence for a very long time, and we have a very active watchdog body Arcom, which wouldn’t allow a government to take it over,” Godard says.

French film and TV producers are already sounding the alarm over the risks of having far right leaders governing the country for the first time since WWII. Xavier Gens, the director of Netflix’s hit shark movie “Under Paris,” says it would be a “catastrophe in general, and a disaster for French cinema.”

Gens argues the far right would dismantle the country’s unique system which allows freelance workers in theater, other live entertainment and movies and TV to receive unemployment benefits.

“What makes French cinema and culture special is our cultural policies that have always preserved auteurs. If we strip down these benefits for freelance workers and privatize public broadcasters we will kill our industry,” said the director, whose credits include “Mayhem!” and “Hitman.” “Our cinema shines everywhere in the world, at festivals and overseas, with films that are vibrant and diverse. If the Rassemblement Nation takes power, it’s the end of everything,” he continued.

In line with other far right parties across Europe, the French far right party, once called Front National, has widened its appeal in recent years after rebranding itself in 2018. Although it’s now marketing itself as a milder, socially engaged and nationalistic party, it’s still driven by a xenophobic ideology.

French producer Daniel Ziskind, who co-produces many movies from the Arab world, such as
Ahmed Yassin Aldaradji’s Venice premiering “Janain mualaqa,” shares Gens’ concerns and fears “an impact on the financing and visibility of world cinema in France.” He says the privatization of French broadcaster France Televisions would also deliver a blow to local and European film biz because it’s a major source of pre-financing for movies.

The snap parliamentary elections will take place in two rounds less than a month before the start of the Olympic Games in Paris. If the Rassemblement National dominates these elections, Macron will have to govern with a prime minister belonging to the far right party until his term ends in 2027. In case of that the outcome, Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old lead candidate who won the European elections by a landslide with 31.5% of votes, has already been tipped as a potential presidential candidate.
French left-wing parties form ‘Popular Front’ to contest snap election

Socialists, Ecologists, Communists and France Unbowed have formed a left-wing alliance

Jon Henley in Paris
Fri, 14 June 2024 

Fabien Roussel, national secretary of the Communist party, addresses a news conference by the Nouveau Front Populaire to announce the alliance of left-wing parties.Photograph: Stéphane Mahé/Reuters

France’s four main leftwing parties have agreed to form a “New Popular Front” (NPF) to contest the snap election, as the far-right leader Marine Le Pen said she would seek a “national unity government” if her National Rally (RN) wins.

The Socialist party (PS), Greens, Communists and France Unbowed (LFI), led by the hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, will campaign on a common platform and field a single joint candidate in each of the 577 parliamentary constituencies.

“A new page in the history of France has been written,” they said in a joint statement. Mélenchon tweeted his “warmest congratulations and thanks to our negotiators who had four sleepless nights” deciding on the programme and 577 candidates.

Macron called the snap ballot last Sunday after his list in the European elections suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the RN, managing less than half the far-right party’s score. The vote will be held over two rounds on 30 June and 7 July.

The LFI MP François Ruffin said the left could now “start our campaign – with the aim of winning!”. Raphaël Glucksmann, who led a successful Socialist-backed list in the European elections, said he would also back the alliance.

“We can’t leave France to the Le Pen family,” Glucksmann told France Inter radio, adding that the NPF looked like the only way to prevent a far-right victory in the election, France’s most momentous in decades.

Glucksmann, whose list scored about 14% in the EU elections, just behind Macron’s camp, accused the president of “plunging France into chaos” and “opening the way to power for the far right”.

It was unclear who would lead the NPF and be its candidate for the post of prime minister. Glucksmann ruled out the bombastic and divisive Mélenchon, saying: “We need someone who can achieve consensus.”

Manuel Bompard, a senior LFI MP, said the alliance’s aim would be to “offer the country a complete break with the policies of Emmanuel Macron, so as to respond to the people’s most immediate needs, and to implement the necessary green transition”.

The NPF, presenting its policies on Friday, said its top priority if elected would be the cost of living crisis, which was “harming the lives and confidence of the French people”. It pledged to cap the price of essential foods, as well as electricity, gas and petrol.

The parties also said they would immediately reverse the unpopular pension changes pushed through last year by Macron’s government and return the French retirement age to 60, as well as overturning a more recent change to unemployment benefits and introducing a wealth tax.

They said France’s minimum wage and pension would be raised, while the NPF would also demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, recognise the state of Palestine, continue supplying necessary arms to Ukraine and legislate for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Related: French elections: who are the key players and what is at stake?

Polls suggest that the NPF, a repeat of the Nupes left-green alliance formed for France’s 2022 parliamentary elections, is unlikely to beat Le Pen’s RN, which is polling at about 33% of the national vote.

But it could capture more than 25%, giving it more than enough deputies in the national assembly to prevent Macron’s centrist coalition, forecast to lose half its MPs, and RN, which could double its tally, from forming a stable majority.

As Nupes, the same left-green alliance worked together in 2022 and 2023, before a leadership struggle, Mélenchon’s polarising tactics and policy differences, notably over the conflict in the Middle East, triggered its de facto collapse.

Campaigning in northern France on Friday, Le Pen said RN was on course to win the election, form a “government of national unity” and “pull France out of the rut”.

The RN leader added: “We will gather all French people – men and women of goodwill – who are aware of the catastrophic situation in our country.” It would be up to the 28-year-old RN president, Jordan Bardella, to “choose his team”, she said.

Infighting has continued in the centre-right Les Républicains (LR), the party of the former presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, after its president, Éric Ciotti, unilaterally announced a surprise alliance with RN.

That prompted the rest of the party’s leadership to vote him out on Wednesday, and again on Friday, but Ciotti has continued to insist he is still the conservative party’s leader. A Paris court was due to rule on the case on Friday evening.

Speaking on BFM-TV on Friday, Bardella, France’s probable prime minister if the far-right party wins a majority in parliament, said the alliance between RN and LR would field joint candidates in roughly 70 constituencies. LR said no such deal was in place.

French left forms 'Popular Front' to fight far right

By Paul Kirby, BBC News

France's left-wing political parties say they have united to form a "New Popular Front" to go head to head with the far right in snap parliamentary elections at the end of this month.

President Emmanuel Macron called the two-round vote after the anti-immigration National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella won a resounding victory in European elections last Sunday.

The latest opinion poll for Le Point website puts RN on 29.5% of the vote in the first round on 30 June and the left-wing alliance on 28.5%, squeezing Mr Macron's Renew into third with 18%.

That has prompted each to claim it will form a "block" to prevent the others winning power in the National Assembly.

With little more than two weeks left before French voters go to the polls, the sense of uncertainty surrounding French politics has been been reflected on the Paris stock exchange and bond markets.

The CAC40 index has endured its worst week since March 2022, slumping by 6.2% since Monday, and by 2.66% on Friday alone. French government bonds have also suffered, and the margin has widened between 10-year interest rates on French and German bonds, the biggest spread since 2017.

The pace of campaigning has been frenetic and the main three groups have launched direct attacks on their rivals.

France's fragmented political landscape and two-round system encourage alliances, which is why the Socialists have agreed to join forces with the Greens, Communists and France Unbowed, the far-left party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The former presidential candidate has alienated many voters on the left by focusing on criticising Israel over the war in Gaza, and his party trailed the Socialists under Raphaël Glucksmann in last Sunday's elections.

However Mr Glucksmann decided the risk of letting down his centre-left voters was worth taking.

"The only thing that matters to me is that the National Rally doesn't win the elections and won't govern the country," he told France Inter radio, adding that Jean-Luc Mélenchon would not lead a left-wing movement.

"We can't leave France to the Le Pen family," he said. While Marine Le Pen leads the parliamentary party, she now has the backing of her niece Marion Maréchal who has been thrown out of a rival far-right party for calling on voters to vote for National Rally.


REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella are on course to win the elections, polls say

The head of the powerful, left-wing CGT union, Sophie Binet said there would be 200 protests across France this weekend: "It's our responsibility to build the popular wave that will block the far right".

Minutes later, National Rally leader Jordan Bardella gave a TV interview declaring that he was "the only one capable of blocking Jean-Luc Mélenchon and blocking the far left". He appealed to "all the patriotic forces of the republic" to unite to prevent the danger of the left winning the election.

For the first time the opinion polls suggest National Rally has a chance of winning the vote, while stopping short of an absolute majority.

Mr Bardella vowed to push through an immigration law enabling the expulsion of "delinquents and Islamists", if he becomes prime minister. He also promised to cut the cost of energy.

A poll on Friday evening for Le Point-Cluster 17 suggested the new left-wing alliance was not far behind Mr Bardella's party.

It indicated RN could win 195-245 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, with the New Popular Front on 190-235. The Macron centrist alliance would be reduced to up to 100 seats.

French right ditch leader over far-right alliance deal

Macron takes huge risk with surprise election

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned of a potential financial crisis if either the far right or the left won the elections. "I'm sorry, [National Rally] do not have the means to afford these expenses," he said.

The left, which has been dominated by France Unbowed in the outgoing parliament, has proposed scrapping the Macron government's pension reforms, lowering the retirement age to 60, a year after it was raised from 62 to 64, and it is also planning to raise the minimum wage from just under €1,400 (£1,180) to €1,600 a month.

Condemning this programme as "total madness", the finance minister said it would break the rules of the EU's stability pact.

Under the Popular Front agreement, France Unbowed is likely to have by far the loudest voice, putting up candidates in 229 of France's 577 constituencies, while the Socialists field 175 candidates, the Ecologists 92 and the Communists 50.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal warned that the left's plans would be very bad news for French people "who would see their taxes rise again". Ecologists leader Marine Tondelier hit back, accusing him of a leading a "Robin Hood government in reverse" with reforms that took money from the poor and left the wealthy alone.

Reuters/Stéphane Mahé
Ousted Republicans leader Eric Ciotti eventually left Republicans party HQ

One party that appears to be completely out of the race is the conservative Republicans, who imploded this week when leader Eric Ciotti called for the party to form an alliance with National Rally.

His colleagues then expelled him from the party and for a while he refused to budge from party headquarters in central Paris.

"It's all turning into a farce," Mr Ciotti accurately observed, after the Republicans (LR) held a new meeting to confirm his expulsion.

A court in Paris met on Friday to consider whether or not LR's decision to ditch its leader followed party rules. It was due to make a decision during the evening.

Jordan Bardella has claimed that 70 RN candidates will run jointly with the Republicans, although the figures are disputed by LR.

However, Republicans in the western suburbs of Paris have reached a local deal with Mr Macron's party to form their own alliance.

Mr Attal said candidates in Hauts-de-Seine had agreed to "block the extremes of the right and left and create a republican arc".

French left vows 'total break' with Macron policies
Fri, 14 June 2024 

France's left Friday vowed a "total break" with President Emmanuel Macron's policies if its new alliance wins historic polls that could propel the far right to major gains in parliament.

Far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen, also making a pitch to voters, pledged a "national unity government" if her party takes power in the snap legislative elections.

Macron on Sunday stunned France by calling polls after Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN) scored more than double his centrist alliance's result in last week's European elections.

Left-wing groups including hard-left France Unbowed (LFI), the Socialist, Communist and Green parties on Thursday agreed an election alliance called the New Popular Front.

On Friday, they unveiled a joint manifesto, whose headline measures included jettisoning Macron's controversial immigration and pension reforms if they win the polls, which open on June 30 with a second round on July 7.

They also promised to "rise to the climate challenge" -- without agreeing on whether to go ahead with modernising France's fleet of nuclear plants -- and to maintain support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

"It's going to be either the far right, or us," Greens party leader Marine Tondelier told reporters.

The coalition won backing from leading left-wing politician Raphael Glucksmann, 44, who led the Socialist-backed list in the European elections.

"We can't leave France to the Le Pen family," he told broadcaster France Inter.

The name of the alliance is a nod to the Popular Front, a political alliance founded in France in 1936 to combat fascism.

Opinion polls suggest Le Pen's party will massively increase its parliamentary presence from its current 88 out of 577 seats.

She took over the National Front -- founded in 1972 by a former SS member -- from her father in 2011, renaming it and standing three times as its presidential candidate.

- 'Hate and discrimination' -

Francois Hollande, the Socialist former president, backed the new union, saying the left-wing forces had "got beyond our differences".

It remained unclear however who would lead the New Popular Front and become prime minister in case of victory. Glucksmann ruled out the LFI's abrasive leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Aurelien Rousseau, a former health minister under Macron, announced on Friday he was switching his allegiance to the Popular Front.

"The RN must not come to power," he said, adding that only the Popular Front was capable of stopping it.

Hitting the campaign trail in the Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, Le Pen claimed the RN could win the elections and form a "national unity government".

"We need to pull France out of the rut," said the 55-year-old, who is expected to run for a fourth time in the 2027 presidential election.

The country was in a "catastrophic situation", she added.

The far right suffered one setback Friday in the shape of an Instagram post from one of France's top YouTubers, Squeezie -- the alias of 28-year-old Lucas Hauchard.

"I've never wanted to talk to you about politics," he told his almost nine million Instagram followers.

"But I think firmly opposing an extremist ideology that preaches hate and discrimination goes beyond any kind of political positioning," he said. The post garnered almost 900,000 likes within a few hours.

- 'Profoundly wrong' -

Other right-wing forces were mired in infighting.

Eric Ciotti, leader of the conservative Republicans, broke a historic taboo this week, announcing his party would form an electoral alliance with the RN.

The rest of the party leadership promptly expelled him, confirming the decision with a second vote on Friday according to party sources.

But Ciotti appeared to have successfully challenged their decision Friday. A Paris court suspended the decision against him pending a more in-depth ruling within eight days.

The 28-year-old RN chairman, Jordan Bardella, said the far-right party and the Republicans would put up joint candidates in 70 of France's 577 parliamentary constituencies, hailing what he said was a "historic agreement".

Macron remained defiant, defending his decision to dissolve parliament and call snap elections.

Speaking at a G7 summit in southern Italy on Thursday, he said his G7 counterparts had praised his move.

"They all said: 'This is courageous'", Macron told journalists.

He took time too, to take a swipe at the programmes of both the Popular Front and the National Rally, describing them as "totally unrealistic".

Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Thursday accused Macron of seeking to score points with voters at home, saying it was "profoundly wrong" to use the G7 summit for "campaigning".

France's stock market suffered its worst week since March 2022 and the first weeks of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The CAC 40 index fell 6.23 percent between the election announcement and close of trading Friday.


A massive solar storm hits Mars, revealing a risk for future astronauts on the red planet

Ashley Strickland, CNN
Fri, 14 June 2024 

When the sun unleashed an extreme solar storm and hit Mars in May, it engulfed the red planet with auroras and an influx of charged particles and radiation, according to NASA.

The sun has been showcasing more activity over the past year as it nears the peak of its 11-year cycle, called solar maximum, which is predicted to occur later this year.

Within recent months, there has been a spike in solar activity, such as X-class flares, the strongest of solar flares, and coronal mass ejections, or large clouds of ionized gas called plasma and magnetic fields that erupt from the sun’s outer atmosphere.

Solar storms that reached Earth in May sparked colorful auroras that danced in the skies over areas that rarely experience them, such as Northern California and Alabama.

The storms originated from a massive cluster of sunspots that happened to face Earth. Then, that sunspot cluster rotated in the direction of Earth’s cosmic neighbor: Mars.

Astronomers used the plethora of orbiters encircling the red planet, as well as rovers driving across its surface, to capture the impacts of a solar storm on Mars firsthand — and to understand better what kind of radiation levels the first astronauts on the red planet may experience in the future.
Solar radiation hits Mars

The most extreme storm occurred on May 20 after an X12 flare released from the sun, according to data collected by the Solar Orbiter spacecraft currently studying the sun.

The massive flare sent X-rays and gamma rays hurtling toward Mars, and a coronal mass ejection released quickly on the heels of the flare, flinging charged particles in the direction of the red planet.

The X-rays and gamma rays traveled at the speed of light and reached Mars first, followed by the charged particles within tens of minutes, according to scientists tracking the activity from NASA’s Moon to Mars Space Weather Analysis Office at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The Curiosity rover, currently exploring Gale Crater just south of the Martian equator, took black-and-white images using its navigation cameras during the solar storm. White streaks resembling snow, which can be seen in the images, are the result of charged particles hitting Curiosity’s cameras, according to NASA.

The energy from the solar particles was so strong that the star camera aboard the Mars Odyssey orbiter, which helps orient the probe as it circles the planet, momentarily shut down. Fortunately, the spacecraft was able to turn the camera back on within an hour. The last time Odyssey faced such extreme solar behavior was during the solar maximum of 2003, when an X45 flare fried the orbiter’s radiation detector.

Fifty-seven images make up this selfie taken by the Curiosity Mars rover at one of its drill sites in January 2019. - NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS

Meanwhile, Curiosity used its Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD, to measure the amount of radiation hitting the planet during the storm. An astronaut standing next to the rover would have experienced radiation equal to 30 chest X-rays, which isn’t deadly, but is the largest such surge of radiation that the rover’s instrument has measured since landing nearly 12 years ago.

Understanding the peak radiation that astronauts may experience on the red planet helps scientists to plan how to protect those on crewed exploration to Mars in the future.

“Cliffsides or lava tubes would provide additional shielding for an astronaut from such an event. In Mars orbit or deep space, the dose rate would be significantly more,” said Don Hassler, RAD principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute’s Solar System Science and Exploration Division in Boulder, Colorado, in a statement. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this active region on the Sun continues to erupt, meaning even more solar storms at both Earth and Mars over the coming weeks.”
Auroras on the red planet

The MAVEN orbiter, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, had an aerial view of auroras dancing in ultraviolet light over Mars during the solar storm. The orbiter launched to Mars in 2013 to study how the red planet has lost its atmosphere over time and how space weather generated by the sun interacts with the upper Martian atmosphere.

But these auroras appear much different from the northern lights, or aurora borealis, and southern lights, or aurora australis, that occur on Earth.

When the energized particles from coronal mass ejections reach Earth’s magnetic field, they interact with gases in the atmosphere to create different colored lights in the sky, specifically near its poles.

But Mars lost its magnetic field billions of years ago, which means the planet has no shield from incoming energized solar particles. So when the particles hit Mars’ thin atmosphere, the reaction results in planet-engulfing auroras.

“Given Mars’ lack of a global magnetic field, Martian aurorae are not concentrated at the poles as they are on Earth, but instead appear as a ‘global diffuse aurora’ that are associated with Mars’ ancient, magnetized crust,” wrote Deborah Padgett, Operational Product Generation Subsystem task lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in the space agency’s Curiosity rover blog.

Future astronauts may be able to witness these Martian light shows one day, according to NASA.

By tracing the data from multiple Martian missions, scientists were able to watch how the solar storm unfolded.

“This was the largest solar energetic particle event that MAVEN has ever seen,” said MAVEN Space Weather Lead Christina Lee of the University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, in a statement. “There have been several solar events in past weeks, so we were seeing wave after wave of particles hitting Mars.

Space weather forecasting needs an upgrade to protect future Artemis astronauts

Lulu Zhao, University of Michigan
Thu, 13 June 2024 

The Sun can send out eruptions of energetic particles. NASA/SDO via AP

NASA has set its sights on the Moon, aiming to send astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2026 and establish a long-term presence there by the 2030s. But the Moon isn’t exactly a habitable place for people.

Cosmic rays from distant stars and galaxies and solar energetic particles from the Sun bombard the surface, and exposure to these particles can pose a risk to human health.

Both galactic cosmic rays and solar energetic particles, are high-energy particles that travel close to the speed of light.

While galactic cosmic radiation trickles toward the Moon in a relatively steady stream, energetic particles can come from the Sun in big bursts. These particles can penetrate human flesh and increase the risk of cancer.

Earth has a magnetic field that provides a shield against high-energy particles from space. But the Moon doesn’t have a magnetic field, leaving its surface vulnerable to bombardment by these particles.

During a large solar energetic particle event, the radiation dosage an astronaut receives inside a space suit could exceed 1,000 times the dosage someone on Earth receives. That would exceed an astronaut’s recommended lifetime limit by 10 times.

NASA’s Artemis program, which began in 2017, intends to reestablish a human presence on the Moon for the first time since 1972. My colleagues and I at the University of Michigan’s CLEAR center, the Center for All-Clear SEP Forecast, are working on predicting these particle ejections from the Sun. Forecasting these events may help protect future Artemis crew members.

With Artemis, NASA plans to return humans to the lunar surface. AP Photo/Michael Wyke
An 11-year solar cycle

The Moon is facing dangerous levels of radiation in 2024, since the Sun is approaching the maximum point in its 11-year solar cycle. This cycle is driven by the Sun’s magnetic field, whose total strength changes dramatically every 11 years. When the Sun approaches its maximum activity, as many as 20 large solar energetic particle events can happen each year.

Both solar flares, which are sudden eruptions of electromagnetic radiation from the Sun, and coronal mass ejections, which are expulsions of a large amount of matter and magnetic fields from the Sun, can produce energetic particles.

The Sun is expected to reach its solar maximum in 2026, the target launch time for the Artemis III mission, which will land an astronaut crew on the Moon’s surface.

While researchers can follow the Sun’s cycle and predict trends, it’s difficult to guess when exactly each solar energetic particle event will occur, and how intense each event will be. Future astronauts on the Moon will need a warning system that predicts these events more precisely before they happen.
Forecasting solar events

In 2023, NASA funded a five-year space weather center of excellence called CLEAR, which aims to forecast the probability and intensity of solar energetic particle events.

Right now, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Space Weather Prediction Center, the center that tracks solar events, can’t issue a warning for an incoming solar energetic particle event until they actually detect a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection. They detect these by looking at the Sun’s atmosphere and measuring X-rays that flow from the Sun.

Once a forecaster detects a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection, the high-energy particles usually arrive to Earth in less than an hour. But astronauts on the Moon’s surface would need more time than that to seek shelter. My team at CLEAR wants to predict solar flares and coronal mass ejections before they happen.

The solar magnetic field is incredibly complex and can change throughout the solar cycle. On the left, the magnetic field has two poles and looks relatively simple, though on the right, later in the solar cycle, the magnetic field has changed. When the solar magnetic field looks like the illustration on the right, solar flares and coronal mass ejections are more common. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/BridgmanCC BYMore

While scientists don’t totally understand what causes these solar events, they know that the Sun’s magnetic field is one of the key drivers. Specifically, they’re studying the strength and complexity of the magnetic field in certain regions on the Sun’s surface.

At the CLEAR center, we will monitor the Sun’s magnetic field using measurements from both ground-based and space-based telescopes and build machine learning models that predict solar events – hopefully more than 24 hours before they happen.

With the forecast framework developed at CLEAR, we also hope to predict when the particle flux falls back to a safe level. That way, we’ll be able to tell the astronauts when it’s safe to leave their shelter and continue their work on the lunar surface.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and trustworthy analysis to help you make sense of our complex world. It was written by: Lulu ZhaoUniversity of Michigan

Read more:

Solar storms can destroy satellites with ease – a space weather expert explains the science

Earth’s magnetic field protects life on Earth from radiation, but it can move, and the magnetic poles can even flip

Solar storm knocks out farmers’ high-tech tractors – an electrical engineer explains how a larger storm could take down the power grid and the internet

Lulu Zhao serves as the principle investigator of CLEAR at the University of Michigan, which receives funding from NASA.

Scientists can’t agree on how fast the universe is expanding – why this matters so much for our understanding of the cosmos

<span class="attribution"><a class="link " href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:James Webb Space Telescope, NASA;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas">James Webb Space Telescope, NASA</a></span>

It’s one of the biggest puzzles in cosmology. Why two different methods used to calculate the rate at which the universe is expanding don’t produce the same result. Known as the Hubble tension, the enigma suggests that there could be something wrong with the standard model of cosmology used to explain the forces in the universe.

Now, recent observations using the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are shaking up the debate on how close the mystery is to being resolved.

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, two professors of astronomy explain why the Hubble tension matters so much for our understanding of the universe.

In February, the Nobel prize-winning physicist Adam Reiss, published a new paper. It said that new observations of far-away stars using the JWST matched those obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope.

These stars, called Cepheids, are commonly used in one method of calculating the rate at which the universe is expanding. Known as the local distance ladder, or cosmic distance ladder, this method has been around since observations first made by Edwin Hubble himself in 1929. And it generally produces a rate of expansion of around 73km per second per mega parsec.

But a second method, using predictions of the cosmic microwave background radiation left over by the Big Bang, has constantly arrived at a different number for the rate of expansion of the universe: 67km per second per mega parsec.

Reiss said that when the new data confirmed the earlier observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, the gap between the numbers remains unresolved. “What remains is the real and exciting possibility that we have misunderstood the universe,” he said.

A few months later, however, more data from the JWST, presented by Wendy Freedman, a physicist at the University of Chicago, using observations from a different set of stars, arrived at 69km per second per mega parsec, a number closer to the cosmic microwave background figure of 67. Freedman is excited that the numbers seem to be converging.

Listen to The Conversation’s podcast series Great Mysteries of Physics for more about the greatest mysteries facing physicists today – and the radical proposals for solving them. Hosted by Miriam Frankel it features interviews with some of the worlds leading scientists including Sean Carroll, Sabine Hossenfelder and Jim Al-Khalili.

Vicent Martínez and Bernard Jones are fascinated by the Hubble tension. Jones is an emeritus professor of astronomy at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Martínez, his former student, is now a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of València in Spain.

“The fundamental basis of science, what distinguishes science from science fiction, is our ability to verify the information we are getting,” explains Jones.

That’s why Martinez says the mystery of the Hubble tension is still driving people to:

Research and imagine experiments and organise huge projects with the complicated observation of the cosmos in order to understand what’s going on. At the end, this will affect your idea of the whole universe and probably you will need to change some fundamental ingredient of your cosmological model.

Martinez and Jones have just written a book, along with their co-author Virginia Trimble, about moments in history when scientists realised they’d got something very wrong, and had to readjust their way of thinking. Martínez thinks this could happen again with the Hubble tension:

It could happen that, for example, a new theory of gravity could solve the problem of dark energy or dark matter. We have to be open to those ideas.

Listen to Bernard Jones and Vicent Martínez talk more about the Hubble tension, and how it fits in the wider history of science, on The Conversation Weekly podcast. The episode also features an introduction from Lorena Sánchez, science editor at The Conversation in Spain.

A transcript of this episode will be available shortly.

This episode of The Conversation Weekly was written and produced by Katie Flood, with assistance from Mend Mariwany. Gemma Ware was the executive producer. Sound design was by Eloise Stevens, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. Stephen Khan is our global executive editor and Soraya Nandy helps with our transcripts.

You can find us on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also subscribe to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

Listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, download it directly via our RSS feed or find out how else to listen here.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation
The Conversation

Vicent J. Martínez receives funding from the Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades (MICIU)—Agencia Estatal de Investigación y de la Conselleria d’Educació, Universitats i Ocupació de la Generalitat Valenciana. Bernard J.T. Jones does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

NASA's Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft from Earth, is doing science again after problem

Fri, 14 June 2024 

FILE - This illustration provided by NASA depicts Voyager 1. The most distant spacecraft from Earth stopped sending back understandable data in November 2023. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California announced this week that Voyager 1's four scientific instruments are back in business after a technical snafu in November. (NASA via AP, File)

DALLAS (AP) — NASA's Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft from Earth, is sending science data again.

Voyager 1's four instruments are back in business after a computer problem in November, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said this week. The team first received meaningful information again from Voyager 1 in April, and recently commanded it to start studying its environment again.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is drifting through interstellar space, or the space between star systems. Before reaching this region, the spacecraft discovered a thin ring around Jupiter and several of Saturn’s moons. Its instruments are designed to collect information about plasma waves, magnetic fields and particles.

Voyager 1 is over 15 billion miles (24.14 kilometers) from Earth. Its twin Voyager 2 — also in interstellar space — is more than 12 billion miles (19.31 kilometers) miles away.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Germany’s top climate envoy says ‘this is the critical decade’ after Dutton ditches 2030 target

Daniel Hurst and Adam Morton
Fri, 14 June 2024

Peter Dutton has been accused of planning to break Australia’s commitment to the Paris agreement by not committing to a 2030 emissions target.Photograph: David Gray/Getty Images

Germany’s climate envoy has dismissed claims the Paris agreement is only about reaching net zero emissions by 2050, warning that deep cuts by 2030 are “essential” and scientific evidence shows “this is the critical decade” to act on global heating.

Australia’s opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has refused to commit to a 2030 emissions reduction target prior to the next national election, prompting claims from Labor, the Greens and independents that the Coalition isn’t serious about acting on the climate crisis.

Dutton raised the prospect of watering down the target – a 43% cut compared with 2005 levels – that Australia has already enshrined in law and committed to under the Paris agreement.

Related: Peter Dutton has reignited Australia’s climate wars. We factcheck the major claims

“Well, the Paris agreement is predominantly about net zero by 2050, and that’s what we’ve signed up to,” Dutton told 2GB radio on Tuesday, adding there was no need to cut emissions in a “linear way”.

But the German government’s special envoy for climate action, Jennifer Morgan, stressed the need for all countries to have strong 2030 targets as part of international attempts to hold global heating to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is an important player in international climate negotiations and is working with Australia on a clean energy transition and the development of green hydrogen. Germany hosted talks in Bonn this week as part of international preparations for the Cop29 summit in November in Baku in Azerbaijan.

While being careful to avoid wading directly into the Australian political debate, Morgan told Guardian Australia that “science-based 2030 targets are essential” to keep the 1.5C limit “intact”.

“Therefore all countries agreed already in 2021 to strengthen their targets within their national climate plans for 2030,” Morgan said.

“This is the critical decade.”

The comments add to Morgan’s previous remarks, made during a visit to the Pacific late last year, that “all countries have to scale up their ambition for 2030” because the 1.5C goal is “a matter of life and death for many people here in this region”.

Morgan, a former Greenpeace co-executive director, has been involved in international climate negotiations for many years. Since 2022, she has served as a state secretary at Germany’s Foreign Office with responsibility for climate action.

The Paris agreement was adopted by more than 190 countries, including Australia’s then Coalition government, in 2015.

The agreement aims to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above preindustrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above preindustrial levels”.

Countries including Australia agreed that such action “would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.

Related: Peter Dutton’s plans will breach the Paris agreement on climate – that much is clear | Adam Morton

Experts say a critical part of the Paris agreement is the promise that countries don’t “backslide” on their level of climate action and that they act rapidly “in accordance with best available science”.

Article 4.3 of the agreement says each commitment a country makes will be a progression – an improvement – on its previous commitment and will “reflect its highest possible ambition”.

Later, the 2015 agreement said a country “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition”.

Morgan’s comments also referenced commitments made in 2021 at the UK-hosted Cop26 summit.

Parties to the Paris agreement – including Australia’s then Coalition government – requested countries “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 targets. They recognised the need for “accelerated action in this critical decade” on the path to the mid-century net zero goal.

Dutton has promised to pursue nuclear energy in Australia, something that is prohibited by law and which experts say would be unlikely to come online before the 2040s – a point he reportedly conceded in an interview with News Corp last Saturday. He has argued Labor’s existing 2030 target is “unachievable”.

Experts have said the country needs to accelerate the rollout of renewable energy to reach the target, but that it could be reached.

Experts, activists slam 'pointless' G7 on climate

Ella IDE
Fri, 14 June 2024 

Europe is the fastest-warming continent and the Mediterranean is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change (Piero CRUCIATTI)

The Group of Seven rich democracies have failed to deliver significant new progress on climate during a summit in Italy, instead reiterating previous commitments, experts and activists said Friday.

"The G7 leaders could have stayed at home. No new commitments were made," said Friederike Roeder, vice president at Global Citizen.

The leaders meeting in Puglia confirmed a pledge by their environment ministers in April "to phase out existing unabated coal power generation in our energy systems during the first half of 2030s".

But they left some wiggle room: countries can commit instead to phase out "in a timeline consistent with keeping a limit of 1.5C temperature rise within reach, in line with countries' net-zero pathways", according to the final statement.

"To stay below 1.5C, the G7's plan to phase out coal is simply too little, too late and gas is neither cheap nor a bridge fuel to a safe climate," said Greenpeace's climate politics expert Tracy Carty.

Together the G7 makes up around 38 percent of the global economy and was responsible for 21 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, according to the Climate Analytics policy institute.

The group, responsible for nearly 30 percent of fossil fuel production, "left the door open for continued public investments in gas", said Nicola Flamigni from climate-oriented communications firm GSCC.

Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States also reiterated the need to agree on a new, post-2025 climate financing goal, with them as leading contributors -- but again, this was not new.

- 'No evidence' -

Dozens of climate protesters held a sit-in outside the G7 media centre in Bari, wearing T-shirts featuring an olive tree in flames emerging from a red-hot Mediterranean sea.

Europe is the fastest-warming continent and the Mediterranean is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change, from droughts to floods.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose hard-right government voted against the European Green Deal, told a summit session that climate change needed to be dealt with "without ideological approaches".

But activists charged that the presence of the CEO of Italian oil and gas giant ENI at a leaders' roundtable on Africa, energy and climate showed how closely Rome's political and fossil fuel interests are entangled.

"There is no evidence that gas in Africa serves the needs of the people better and cheaper than clean energy and electrification more broadly," Luca Bergamaschi, co-founder of ECCO think tank, told AFP.

"On the contrary, gas investments in Africa have a negative impact on public budget and are a key factor in driving a worsening debt crisis," he said.

Experts also pointed to the G7's lack of commitment to remain leading contributors to the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA), which helps African countries fight against climate change.

- 'Half baked' -

The G7 announced a new Energy for Growth in Africa initiative, launched alongside several countries, from the Ivory Coast to Ethiopia and Kenya, but did not say what -- if any -- funding was attached.

It also unveiled the Apulia Food Systems Initiative -- the fourth major G7 food security initiative in 15 years -- as part of a push by the G7 to tackle the root causes of unwanted migration.

Nga Celestin, permanent secretary of the Regional Platform of Farmers' Organizations in Central Africa (PROPAC), said it was a "half-baked" initiative that would not work without engaging family farmers.

Africa's small-scale farmers produce up to 70 percent of the continent's food, according to the UN, and experts say failure to engage them has thwarted previous G7 initiatives.

The ONE Campaign slammed the G7's "pointless platitudes in Puglia", with executive director David McNair saying "this year's summit sorely missed the mark".


Pope Francis warns AI poses risk to 'human dignity itself' as he becomes first pontiff to address G7

Sky News
Updated Fri, 14 June 2024 

Pope Francis has issued a warning about AI as he became the first pontiff to address the G7 summit of world leaders.

A hush fell as he entered the room in his wheelchair - and he greeted each of the leaders in turn, including President Biden, President Zelenskyy and Rishi Sunak.

His countryman, Argentinian President Javier Milei, gave him an especially warm welcome, while there was a hug from Jordan's King Abdullah and a whispered exchange with President Biden.

The Pope told leaders artificial intelligence offered "epochal transformation" that included "exponential" advances in scientific research.

However, he warned it must be closely monitored to maintain "human dignity" and control.

"We would condemn humanity to a future without hope if we took away people's ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives, by dooming them to depend on the choices of machines," he said.

"We need to ensure and safeguard a space for proper human control over the choices made by artificial intelligence programmes: human dignity itself depends on it."

"No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being," he added.

The speech echoed his annual peace message, which called for a treaty to ensure AI is developed ethically to uphold values such as compassion and morality.

The meeting is taking place in Italy's southern Puglia region, some 260 miles from the 87-year-old Pope's home in The Vatican.

The core G7 is made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and US.

However, the leaders of India, Brazil, Turkey, Algeria, Kenya and Tunisia - who together represent 1.6 billion people - are also there.

The first day of the summit on Thursday brought about a renewed pledge to support Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Migration from Africa, a particular concern for Italy, the Gaza war, and climate change are also on the agenda.

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will host an informal dinner on Friday evening and on Saturday afternoon there will be a final press conference on the summit's outcomes.


G-7 Leaders (AND MORE) Gather for Historic Family Photo With Pope Francis

Bloomberg News
Fri, 14 June 2024

(Bloomberg) -- Few things capture the mood among world leaders better than a Group of Seven family photo. The simmering rage at perceived slights, the relegation of unpopular leaders to the back, smiles that seem a tad forced given all the problems left back home.

All this and more was revealed in the body language of presidents, prime ministers and — for the first time ever — a pope plopped center stage after being brought over in a golf cart.

One got an immediate sense of who is down and out, and who is on the up. Everyone may try and put on a brave face, but the grinning looked a tad forced for Emmanuel Macron and Rishi Sunak.

Joe Biden’s movements were being literally scrutinized by his conservative critics when his Republican rival is only three years younger (Donald Trump turned 78 on Friday, sharing a birthday with Germany’s Olaf Scholz).

For the UK leader this could well be his last G-7, given polls show he is likely to be voted out on July 4 (Independence Day for the US) before the NATO summit in Washington.

Macron will limp on — he’s president until 2027 — but he faces his own potential comeuppance at the hands of the French electorate soon. His colleagues were baffled at why he would call a snap legislative election he didn’t need to and his host, Giorgia Meloni, was irritated by his lateness for dinner.

This is her moment.

Not only is she — politically speaking — the leader on the firmest footing (having won big in recent European parliament elections) but she showed swagger: taking selfies while waiting for Biden, giving Macron a death stare, ducking away from Sunak’s enthusiastic greeting, and being very attentive to His Holiness.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was placed bang center stage early on — which kept him at arm’s length from Biden and Canada’s Justin Trudeau (given the furor around the assassination of a Sikh nationalist in North America).

But in a telling moment, Modi made the gesture and came down toward Biden to have a brief chat. He also later helped Pope Francis back into the golf cart he arrived in.

--With assistance from Ania Nussbaum, Ellen Milligan, Brian Platt, Jennifer Jacobs, Josh Wingrove, Annmarie Hordern, Alberto Nardelli, Donato Paolo Mancini, Chiara Albanese and Arne Delfs.

G7 leaders sing 'Happy Birthday' to Germany's Scholz
Reuters Videos
Updated Fri, 14 June 2024 


STORY: ::G7 leaders sing 'Happy Birthday' to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

::Borgo Egnazia, Italy

::June 14, 2024

Leaders including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke into song, to the apparent delight of Scholz who was beaming throughout the celebration.

Friday marks the final day of talks at the annual summit, with China topping the agenda before Pope Francis puts in a historic appearance to discuss artificial intelligence.

Many of the leaders will leave Italy late on Friday, including Biden, and Meloni said they had already agreed on the summit's conclusions, to be approved at the end of the day.

Welcome to the most unpopular G7 summit ever
James Crisp
Thu, 13 June 2024 

Lame ducks in a row: Of the G7 leaders gathering in Italy, only Giorgia Meloni is not struggling with high disapproval ratings

Rishi Sunak will meet some of the world’s most unpopular leaders at the G7 summit – but none have such high disapproval ratings as the British Prime Minister.

It means that Mr Sunak will win at least one contest this year as he hurtles towards wipeout in July’s general election.

He will feel understandably envious when he meets Giorgia Meloni, his host, who is fresh from a landslide triumph in European elections that has boosted her international influence.

Apart from Ms Meloni, who placed herself front and centre of the European campaign, he will find himself in depressing company.

He would have hoped that the G7 would provide some much needed foreign glamour and gravitas to distract from his domestic woes.

Instead, Mr Sunak finds himself hobbling at the head of a parade of lame ducks, including Emmanuel Macron of France.

Marine Le Pen’s National Rally won a landslide victory in the European elections, taking roughly double the vote as Mr Macron’s party.

The G7 summit set to be dominated by talks over a plan on how to use interest on frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine - Andrew Medichini/AP

Ms Le Pen has called for an alliance with Ms Meloni, who said she has “points in common” with the hard-Right leader.

The French president, like Mr Sunak, called a surprise snap election for July, which could leave him denuded of many powers and stuck with an NR prime minister.

Like the British premier, he faces being badly punished by his electorate. Telegraph calculations put the centrist’s net approval rating (voters who approve, minus voters who disapprove ) at -31 per cent.

Germany’s Olaf Scholz arrives after leading his centre-Left SPD to their worst ever European results.

The chancellor was defeated by the centre-Right CDU and the pro-Putin and extremist Alternative for Germany, despite the latter being embroiled in a slew of scandals.

Rishi Sunak arrives with other G7 leaders to watch a parachute drop at San Domenico Golf Club - CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE

Now Mr Scholz is facing calls to collapse his unpopular coalition government and call a snap election like Mr Macron and Mr Sunak have done.

His calamitous rating is -51 per cent but it still isn’t as bad as Mr Sunak’s mammoth -54 per cent.

Joe Biden is tied with Donald Trump in polling for the US presidential elections this November, despite Mr Trump’s recent federal convictions.

Mr Biden arrives in Puglia after his son Hunter was convicted on federal gun charges with a comparatively buoyant net rating of -18.5 per cent.

Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Japan’s Fumio Kishida also have problems, with scores of -38 and -40 per cent respectively.

Giorgia Meloni, facing the camera, is hosting G7 leaders following a successful result in the EU elections - DOMENICO STINELLIS/AP

The G7 summit set to be dominated by talks over a plan on how to use interest on frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine.

The leaders will also call on China to stop helping Russia and criticise Beijing for anti-competitive economic policies.

It’s a welcome chance for Mr Sunak to dish out some statesmanlike criticism rather than being a victim of it.

The EU leaders may also find time on the margins to discuss the allocation of the bloc’s top jobs after European elections that saw big gains for the hard-Right but the pro-EU centre hold.

It is in none of the assembled leaders’ interests for this summit to be a foreign failure to compound their domestic problems.

The sunshine of Puglia and the company of other world leaders in front of the cameras should provide some blessed relief from the boos and brickbats back home.

For Ms Meloni, however, it will be yet another crowning moment in a week of success.