What is the G7?
The G7 is an informal forum for dialogue bringing together seven highly industrialised countries (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union) that share common values and principles: freedom and democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights.
How was it created?
The G7 was established in the first half of the 1970s, following the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system and the 1973 oil crisis, as an informal forum to coordinate on economic and monetary matters. The first Summit of Heads of State and Government, at the time in G6 format, dates back to 1975; the current format was established in 1976, with the entry of Canada.
How does it work?
The G7 has an informal nature; as such, it does not have a secretariat (unlike international organisations) nor does it have permanent structures. The events leading to the Summit are coordinated by the rotating Presidency, which has the task of organising and hosting the preparatory meetings as well as the meetings at ministerial level.
What does it do?
Initially established as a forum for dialogue and coordination on economic and financial matters, the G7 later expanded its Agenda to encompass several other fields of international activity, such as development aid and contribution to global peace and security. It should be noted that G7 countries provide yearly more than the 70% of all official development aid worldwide, for an amount of over US$ 100 billion (OECD data, 2020: https://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-finance-data/ODA-2020-detailed-summary.pdf). Over the past years, the G7 countries have increasingly focused their attention on issues such as sustainable energy, the fight against climate change, food security, health, gender equality.
How does it do it?
The positions taken by G7 Heads of State and Government at the Summits provide a crucial contribution to global governance and to the decision-making processes of international organisations. Furthermore, they lead in several cases to the implementation of sectoral initiatives, often open to the participation of external actors (third countries and civil society), that produce substantial effects at global level. Examples of such initiatives are the Global Fund for Fighting AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Genoa 2001: http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/), the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (Kananaskis 2002), the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative (L’Aquila 2009), and, last but not least, the initiatives favouring female entrepreneurship in Africa (Biarritz 2019).
In 2009, under the Italian Presidency, the Accountability Working Group (AWG) was established in order to assess compliance with G7 commitments and to monitor the progress made. The AWG publishes an annual report, concerning one or several areas of G7 intervention, to ensure transparency and enable control by civil society; a comprehensive accountability report is published every three years (the last one was published in 2019, under the French Presidency: https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapport-g7-bat-web_cle85fc7e.pdf).
History of the G7/G8
The idea of periodic encounters between world political leaders stemmed from the need to provide an emergency response to the global economic crises that affected the international economic and financial system at the beginning of the 1970s: the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system in 1971 and the 1973 oil crisis. It was precisely in that year, at the initiative of US Treasury Secretary George Schultz, that the four leading industrialised countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom, U.S.A.) founded a forum to coordinate on economic and monetary policies at ministerial level. Japan joined the group in 1974 to form the G5. The following year, the first G6 Summit was convened at the initiative of French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and was held in Rambouillet, with Italy participating. The aim was to debate on global economic and financial issues within the framework of what was called an “Economic Summit” between the Heads of State and Government of the six leading world economies.
The format was enlarged with the entrance of Canada in 1976 (G7) and with the participation – in 1977 – of the European Economic Community (which later became the European Union), with a role initially limited to its exclusive areas of competence. Starting from the 1981 Ottawa Summit, the EEC/EU has taken part in all the forums of debate, represented by the President of the European Commission and by the President of the European Council, although it does not chair the G7 Summits.
The Soviet Union was first invited to attend at debates organised in parallel to the G7 London Summit in 1991. Subsequently, the newly formed Russian Federation was gradually included in the G7 process until the first participation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the Naples Summit of 1994, with the launch of the so-called G7+1 format, with meetings taking place at the end of each summit. As of the Denver Summit in 1997 – at the invitation of the U.S. and U.K. – Russia became a full member of the G8, albeit without participating in Finance Ministries meetings (a.k.a. finance track). The first Summit under Russian presidency was held in St. Petersburg in July 2006 while the second, originally scheduled to take place in 2014 in Sochi, was suspended due to the Ukrainian crisis and replaced by a G7 Summit held in Brussels, by way of exception, without Russian involvement.
The informal structure of the G7 has allowed for a gradual extension of its agenda. What started as a venue to coordinate economic and financial policies has become a prominent global governance forum covering all major foreign policy and development issues. Already in the 1980s, policy and security issues were introduced; in the 1990s, the Summit’s agenda extended to deal with new, crosscutting issues such as trade, climate change and nuclear non-proliferation. Globalisation of the world economy and the new, complex challenges (fight against poverty, tackling climate change, protection of the environment, orderly migration management) have spurred the G7/G8 to pay greater attention to promoting dialogue with developing countries, particularly in Africa.
Already in the last decade of the last century, the economic and financial crises that had hit a series of emerging economies in Latin America and Asia had convinced the G7 Ministers of the economy of the need to involve other countries in discussions on the economy and global finance. At the instigation of the Canadian and US Economic Ministers, four meetings were held in broader formats in 1998 and 1999 (G22 and G33); in December 1999, the G20 of Economy Ministers was established, with the inclusion – in addition to the G8 – of a number of emerging countries and the European Union.
In the meantime, similar needs for inclusion and representativeness prompted the British leader Tony Blair, in 2005, to invite five emerging countries with particular political and economic importance to the G8 Summit: Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Starting from the Heiligendamm Summit in Germany (2007), the so-called “Heiligendamm process” was institutionalised, involving the G8 plus the 5 countries mentioned above in a dialogue related to four specific areas (innovation, freedom of investments, development cooperation – particularly in Africa – energy and climate change).
The 2008 economic and financial crisis acted as a catalyst for the ongoing process, leading the US President George W. Bush to convene, in November 2008, the first Summit at the level of Heads of State and Government in G20 format (which includes the G8 plus Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey and the European Union, and in which several International Organisations also participate) (see the G20 page).
In summary, the informal nature of the G7 / G8 has over the years favoured an open confrontation between a nucleus of countries in political harmony (even if not necessarily in complete agreement on each dossier), revealing itself to be an essential element of its success. In more recent years, the G7 Agenda has increasingly adapted to the changes in the international context: the initial interest in financial stability and macroeconomic coordination problems has been accompanied by sensitivity towards other crucial issues, including aid to development, climate change, food security, global health, gender equality and the role of women, innovation and work, the fight against international terrorism, cybersecurity, the management of migratory flows.
The structure and evolution of the G7/G8 agenda
Structure and enlarged formats
An informal forum for quick decision-making
The G7 is a high-level forum between representatives of the most advanced economies (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union). Its principal feature is its informal nature, which is instrumental to enabling discussion and action on the main global economic and financial challenges, regional crises or environmental and development issues. The G7 does not rely on a Secretariat nor a budget or permanent staff. The Presidency rotates annually among Member Countries, according to a predefined order: France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. The rotating Presidency proposes items to be included in the Summit Agenda and ministerial meetings, organises the preparatory events, prepares the drafts of final documents and of the Leaders’ Communiqué and involves international organisations, civil society or third parties (“outreach”).
The process leading to the annual Summit comprises a series of meetings and informal events in which each member Country participates at different levels. Since the beginning, the process has been structured into workstreams led by “Sherpas”, “Foreign Affairs Sous-Sherpas” (FASS), “Finance Sous-Sherpas” (FSS) and “Political Directors” (PD). Sherpas (a term inspired by Himalayan guides that lead mountaineers to the summit of a mountain) are personal representatives of the Leaders of the member Countries for all the issues on the Summit’s agenda. They are responsible for the preparatory process leading to the annual Summit and for coordinating the negotiation of the Leaders’ Communiqué. Sherpas meet on a regular basis to hold discussions on major international issues. In Italy, the Sherpa is traditionally appointed among high-ranking diplomats.
Every G7 Presidency organises three or four Sherpa meetings to prepare for the Summit and a number of post-Summit meetings to ensure follow-up. The Sherpa is assisted by: a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Foreign Affairs Sous-Sherpa) who is responsible for handling cross-cutting issues in the environmental, socio-economic and development fields (identified from time to time, depending upon the Presidency’s agenda); a representative from the Ministry of Economy and Finance (Sous-Sherpa Finance), who deals with economic and financial issues of the Summit agenda; an additional representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Political Director) who deals with foreign policy and security issues. Under the direction of the Sherpas, the Foreign Affairs and Finance Sous-Sherpas, together with the Political Director, play a key role in drawing up the Leaders’ Communiqué. Moreover, the Finance Sous-Sherpas and the Political Directors personally manage the processes that lead, respectively, to the Finance Ministers’ meeting and the Foreign Ministers’ meeting, and the negotiations on their respective Communiqués.
Working groups on specific issues
In order to ensure that the commitments made at the annual Summit are implemented and that the issues addressed have been examined in depth from a technical and operational perspective, it has been necessary to develop appropriate coordination mechanisms. To this aim, over the years, under the guidance of the Foreign Affairs and Finance Sous-Sherpas and Political Directors, a number of Working Groups have been established, to examine specific issues such as, for example, access to water, health, education, intellectual property, development, energy, non-proliferation and support for the United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking activities. The Working Groups receive a mandate that may consist in producing a Final Report (usually to be submitted at the Summit) or negotiating an appropriate wording; they meet two or three times a year, under the coordination of the G7 Presidency.
Among these groups, there is the Accountability Working Group (AWG), established in 2009 at the initiative of the Italian Presidency to report on progress made in implementing commitments undertaken by the G7 / G8.
Initially, the Heads of State and Government were accompanied to meetings by their Foreign Affairs and Finance Ministers; at the Birmingham Summit in 1998, it was decided to separate the ministerial meetings from the original Summit of Heads of State and Government, so as to maintain the “original spirit” of Rambouillet (home of the first Summit in G6 format). From then on, the number of ministerial meetings – mainly concentrated in the six-month period preceding the Summit – has increased significantly in response to the need for a more technical approach to refine the broader guidelines provided by Heads of State and Government for major international issues. Ministerial meetings enjoy a wider degree of organisational and functional autonomy than Summits of Heads of State and Government, albeit in the framework of an overall consistency of message and unity of purpose, which is the Presidency’s task – and interest – to oversee and ensure. Some of the most important conclusions of ministerial meetings are traditionally included in the final document of the annual Summit of Heads of State and Government.
G7/G8 Summits Chaired by Italy
22 – 23 June 1980 in Venice (G7)
Prime Minister: Francesco Cossiga
The agenda of the first Italian Summit, held in 1980, focused primarily on economic issues: containing inflation, monetary policy, trade and the energy issue. Discussions also addressed relations with developing countries, refugees and security. Furthermore, the Iran hostage crisis and international terrorism gave rise to two distinct Statements: one on the Taking of Diplomatic Hostages and the other on Hijacking. Lastly, G7 members approved a communiqué condemning the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
8 – 10 June 1987 in Venice (G7)
Prime Minister: Amintore Fanfani
At the Venice Summit in 1987, the agenda was broadened to include, in addition to the traditional economic issues, topics such as the AIDS pandemic, countering the proliferation of drugs, East-West relations, the Iran-Iraq War and international terrorism.
8 – 10 July 1994 in Naples (G7)
Prime Minister: Silvio Berlusconi
The third Italian Summit was held in Naples in 1994 and was attended for the first time by the Russian Federation with Russian president Boris Yeltsin invited as a guest observer. The topics addressed were primarily economic issues such as employment, growth, trade and development. Other topics discussed included issues pertaining to the environment, nuclear safety, the democratic transitions of former Soviet bloc countries, cooperation against transnational crime and anti-money laundering measures.
20 – 22 July 2001 in Genoa (G8)
Prime Minister: Silvio Berlusconi
The Genoa Summit, in 2001, was the first held in the G8 format. The Summit was marred by violent events and clashes between protestors and security forces. On the second day, the leaders issued a joint declaration to express their deep regret for the loss of life of a young protestor during the riots and to strongly condemn the violence that had taken place. The issues outlined in the final statement addressed debt and poverty reduction in developing countries, regional security, digital opportunities, environment, food security, employment, combating transnational organised crime and illicit drug-trafficking. On the occasion of the Genoa Summit, the G8 launched the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/).
8 – 10 July 2009 in Aquila (G8)
Prime Minister: Silvio Berlusconi
Issues at the heart of the fifth Italian Summit were the international economic crisis and various regional crises, food security, fighting climate change and liberalisation of world trade. The L’Aquila Summit involved the G5 (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa); Egypt, Australia, Indonesia, and South Korea representing the Major Economies Forum (MEF); several African countries and six International Organisations. The L’Aquila Food Security Initiative (AFSI) was launched at this Summit.
26 – 27 May 2017 in Taormina (G7)
Prime Minister: Paolo Gentiloni
On the occasion of the sixth Summit hosted by Italy, the issues discussed by the Leaders focused on the most significant themes of the global agenda, such as: fight against terrorism, economic growth and reduction of inequalities, international trade, climate change, human mobility, food security, gender issues and innovation, skills and labour in the age of the New Production Revolution. The traditional outreach session was dedicated to Africa, with Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia leaders taking part, along with the heads of the African Union and of the most important International Organizations.