G7 spouses’ club heads to the mountains

EuroActiv Politico News

ELMAU — Even the prospect of a trip to a swanky Alpine resort and the chance to meet a new member of the G7 spouses’ club wasn’t enough to get all the wives (and one husband) of the leaders to gather in Elmau.

There’s just one woman at the G7 top table — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — and the other eight are straight men, which means the spouses are mostly women.

After 16 years, Joachim Sauer, the husband of Angela Merkel, is no longer a participant at such gatherings — and in truth he never turned up to many of them. Sauer was joined for a while by Philip May, husband of the U.K.’s Theresa May. The only man on the invite list now is von der Leyen’s husband, Heiko, and he was forced to cancel his trip to the Bavarian Alps at the last minute because of a positive COVID test.

In the end, Britta Ernst, the wife of new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, was joined at her first G7 by Brigitte Macron, Carrie Johnson and Amélie Derbaudrenghien, the wife of European Council President Charles Michel. 

It’s Ernst’s first high-profile hosting assignment since Scholz came into office in December. Unlike Sauer, who worked as a professor of physical and theoretical chemistry for the entirety of Merkel’s time in power, Ernst is used to high-level politics — she is minister for education in the state government of Brandenburg for the Social Democrats. She took three days off to attend the G7 but said she intends to be back in Potsdam for a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. 

Sauer always made sure there was some science in the G7 spouses’ program, and Ernst appears to be continuing that tradition, with a Monday visit to the Elmauer Alm mountain to meet with researchers and discuss the impact of climate change on glaciers.

On Sunday, the spouses took a walk around a lake next to the Schloss Elmau and then upped the exercise quota with some Nordic walking accompanied by former ski champion Christian Neureuther, followed by refreshments at Gasthaus Ferchensee, a traditional restaurant.

The spouses enjoyed the day, according to Neureuther: “Brigitte, that is Mrs. Macron, even wanted not to take the shuttle, but to walk back, and that’s what she did,” he told dpa newswire on Monday, adding that they “agreed … that we would meet for skiing.”

On Monday, a master violin maker talked to the group about her craft, followed by a group of junior Olympic skiers from the region demonstrating “roller ski training.”

The evening will feature a barbecue, with the G7 leaders — although it is unclear if the leaders and their spouses will be in charge of the grill or if a chef has been provided.

U.S. First Lady Jill Biden is giving the G7 a miss and has travelled to Spain, where her husband and other NATO leaders will gather for a summit later this week. 

In Madrid on Monday, Biden is scheduled to meet Queen Letizia and attend an event dedicated to fighting cancer. She will then meet Begoña Gómez, the partner of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

On Tuesday, Jill Biden will visit a reception center for Ukrainian refugees and meet with Ukrainian families currently living in the Spanish capital. By the evening, her husband will have arrived and they will attend a dinner hosted by Queen Letizia and King Felipe VI, which is part of the official NATO program.