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Structure and extended format

An informal forum for rapid decision-making
Since its initial 6-member meeting in 1975, the G8 has provided a high-level dialogue forum for the leaders of the world’s main industrialised democracies. Its hallmark informality contributes to its capacity for rapid decision-making regarding a broad range of global challenges, whether economic, financial, environmental or development-related. The G8 Presidency rotates each calendar year to one of its member countries, with Summits generally being held in June or July of that year.

The G8 has maintained its original structure consisting, within each of its member countries, of an institutional triangle made up of the G8 personal representative of the Head of State or Government, known as the “Sherpa” (a metaphoric reference to the Himalayan ethnic group particularly skilled as high altitude guides and porters). The Sherpas are assisted by the Foreign Affairs and Finance Sous-Sherpas.

The Sherpas are responsible for preparing the agenda of the annual G8 Summit and for coordinating the drafting of the Summit’s final declaration. They regularly inform each other on the positions and proposals of their respective Heads of State or Government, with whom they are in direct and continuous contact, regarding major international issues. In Italy the task of Sherpa is traditionally carried out by a high ranking diplomat. Each G8 Presidency arranges three or four Sherpa meetings to prepare the Summit agenda and two subsequent ones to deal with its immediate follow-up. The Foreign Affairs and Finance Sous-Sherpas take their instructions from the Sherpas and play a key role in negotiating the text of the Final Declaration.

Working groups on specific issues
To ensure that G8 commitments are followed up, coordination mechanisms have been established to implement the decisions taken at the annual Summits. Over the years Working Groups composed of G8 experts have been set up. Working to a mandate from the Heads of State and Government, they examine specific issues such as health, education, intellectual property or access to water. Working Groups include the Rome-Lyon Group, which deals with organised crime, the Nuclear Safety and Security Group (NSSG) and the Non Proliferation Directors Group (NPDG). The Food Security Group was set up in 2008 under the Japanese Presidency.

The Groups receive a medium-term mandate that generally ends with a concluding report presented at the annual Summit. They meet 2 or 3 times a year under the coordination of that year’s Presidency.

The number of ministerial meetings – which are mainly concentrated in the six months preceding the Summit – has increased considerably over the years. This is a result of the need to take a more technical approach to the international questions addressed in more general terms by the Heads of State and Government.

The ministerials are conducted independently of the Summits of Heads of State and Government, which are prepared by the Sherpas and Sous-Sherpas. Some of the most significant conclusions to emerge from the ministerials are reflected in the Final Declaration of the Annual Summit of Heads of State and Government.

Dialogue with the emerging economies and developing countries
Since the 1990s the emergence of new international actors and the increasing complexity of the challenges to be tackled have led the G8 to promote an enhanced dialogue with the main emerging economies. A structured dialogue (Heiligendamm Dialogue Process or HDP) with Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa was opened at the Heiligendamm Summit in 2007. This focuses on investment, energy, innovation and development. The first two years of the HDP will end in 2009 under the Italian Presidency, which will be responsible for proposing the continuation of the process to the G8 partners.

In 2007 the Major Economies Meeting (MEM) was launched at the initiative of the United States to foster a positive outcome of the climate change negotiations in the wider United Nations context. This is being done through discussion between the advanced, emerging and developed economies most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the G8 countries, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, South Korea and Indonesia also take part.

The African Partnership Forum (APF) was set up in 2003 at the Evian Summit. Its aim is to extend the dialogue between the G8 and the developing countries, most notably Africa, where the problem of poverty is greatest. The APF is composed of the personal representatives for Africa of the G8 Heads of State and Government (APR), the main OECD donor countries, a number of UN agencies and representatives of the African Union and of the countries represented on the Steering Committee of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The APF meets twice a year, with one meeting hosted by the G8 Presidency and the other by an African country.

last update: 19/08/2009

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