G8 leaders, usually sealed off from their peers at summits, found themselves living side by side at the gathering that ended on Friday — and the change of surroundings served as an icebreaker.
In the absence of any upmarket hotels around the town of L’Aquila, which was devastated by an April earthquake, the leaders found themselves billeted in police barracks and some even had to share accommodation.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for example took up digs in the same block as his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy. The Kremlin chief occupied the first two floors, while Sarkozy’s delegation was on the two upper levels.
“It’s been a good chance for the two to get to know each other before the president goes to France next spring,” said a source in the Russian delegation.
Medvedev himself appeared full of bonhomie at the summit, referring to US President Barack Obama by his first name.
A member of the British delegation said that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown felt as if he were back in a university dormitory while he shared a block with the Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.
“It was very basic, like a hall of residence,” the source said.
Brown, criticized for his often dour exterior, appeared to be in high spirits throughout much of the last three days and was often seen laughing and joking with his counterparts.
Their host, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, had been at the center of increasingly lurid headlines in the lead-up to the summit.
But Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the 72-year-old had been in great form and had been a generous host.
“As you know, he is in his 70s, I think. You wouldn’t know it and he is remarkably energetic and a wonderful host,” he said. “The only problem I have with Prime Minister Berlusconi is the gifts he gave me are enough to get me into a serious problem with the ethics commissioner so I’m going to make sure I report them all.”