Structure and enlarged formats
An informal forum for quick decision-making
The G7 is a high level forum for debate between representatives of the most advanced economies (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union). Its principal characteristic is its informal nature, which is instrumental to enabling discussion and the rapid assumption of common stances on global economic and financial challenges, regional crises or environmental and development issues. The G7 does not have headquarters or a Secretariat nor does it have a budget or permanent staff. The Presidency rotates annually among Member Countries with each new term and coincides with the solar year, according to a predefined order: France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. The rotating Presidency has the task of proposing points to be included in the Summit Agenda and ministerial meetings, of organising the preparatory events, preparing the drafts of final documents and that of the Final Statement (approved by the Heads of State and Government) and deciding on the extent of participation of 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 G7 has been configured as an institutional structure consisting of “Sherpas”, “Foreign Affairs Sous-Sherpas” (FASS), “Finance Sous-Sherpas” (FSS) and “Political Directors” (PD). Sherpas (a metaphor inspired by Himalayan guides that lead mountaineers to the top of a summit) 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 drafting of the Final Statement. Sherpas meet on a regular basis to communicate the views and proposals of their Heads of State and Government – with whom they have a direct and frequent dialogue – 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 co-ordination mechanisms. To this aim, over the years, the Foreign Affairs and Finance Sous-Sherpas and Political Directors established Working Groups, composed of experts, 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.
Over the years, the political impetus of the G7 has given rise to many initiatives, in a wide range of sectors, that have proven to be successful on a global level, and which are generally open to the participation of external actors (third countries and civil society). Among these are the Global Fund to fight 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) and the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative (Aquila 2009).