ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland — Europe is mired in debt and recession. Financial markets have hit violent ups and downs on fears that U.S. stimulus efforts may soon be scaled back. Japan is finally looking up after years of stagnation — but it remains an open question whether the recovery will stick.
That's the global economy that will confront the heads of the Group of Eight leading economies as they gather today and Tuesday in Northern Ireland for their annual summit.
British Prime Minister David Cameron will serve as summit host for President Barack Obama and the leaders of Germany, Italy, Canada, France, Japan and Russia. At the top of the agenda: new cooperation to fight tax evasion and increase transparency among governments. Also on the table will be how much help to give to rebels in Syria, and a push for lower trade barriers between the United States and the European Union.
On the sidelines and over dinner, it's expected that the discussions will broaden to include the election results in Iran and data protection, following revelations about a U.S. counterterror surveillance program.
As always, the summit takes place under heavy security, guarded by 8,000 police backed by water cannon. The venue itself is surrounded by extensive security fences, and on three sides by water. There's only one access road to the closest town, Enniskillen, about 5 miles away.
While its peace process has been hailed worldwide as a success story, Northern Ireland remains a society troubled by deep-seated divisions between Catholics and Protestants. Officials have said trouble away from the summit site can't be ruled out. Additionally, thousands of anticapitalist and labor union protesters are expected to march from the town to the summit fence today.
Since last year's G-8 meeting at Camp David in the United States, there has been a modest economic upswing throughout the developed world and prospects are brighter after five years of turbulence and recession.
Yet despite progress, there are uncertainties.
Chief among the question marks: When will the U.S. Federal Reserve begin to curtail its extraordinary stimulus, which has supported the recovery in the United States and helped send markets around the world to new peaks? Global stock and bond markets have whipsawed since May 23, when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the central bank might slow its drive to keep long-term borrowing costs low in the coming months.