The Group of Seven (G7)/Group of Eight (G8) is an informal forum of the world’s leading economies. The heads of state and government of these countries formulate joint positions on global policy issues when they meet for annual summits. Primary areas of focus include the global economy, foreign and security policy, development and climate.
The first world economic summit, which gave birth to the G7/G8, was initiated by former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 1975 and held at the Château de Rambouillet, where the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States gathered for fireside chats. The group took on the form of the G7 when Canada joined in 1976 and has convened for annual summits ever since.
The European Union (formerly the European Community) has attended the summits since 1977. The G7 became the G8 in 1998 when Russia – which had held guest status since 1994 – was officially added to the group. However, the G8 process was suspended in 2014 due to Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The G7 leaders determined at the time that it was not possible to conduct productive talks within the G8. For this reason, they decided not to attend the 2014 G8 summit, which had been slated to take place in Sochi on 4–5 June 2014 under Russia’s presidency. Instead, the G7 gathered for a summit in Brussels on 4–5 June 2014. Following this meeting, Germany assumed the G7 presidency ahead of time. Since then, the process has been continued under the G7 format. This decision underlined the fact that the G7 is a community of shared values that will not accept the breach of international law.
Like the G20, the G7/G8 is not an international organisation. It does not have its own administrative structure. Due to the G7/G8’s informal structures, the rotating annual presidency plays a particularly central role. The country that holds the annual presidency organises that year’s summit and sets the agenda.
The summits, which are usually held mid-year, provide the heads of state and government with a key opportunity to exchange views in face-to-face talks. On the occasion of each summit, a communiqué containing the main results is published, together with accompanying reports and action plans.
Each government leader has a personal representative, called a sherpa, who prepares the summit. The Federal Ministry of Finance assists the German Chancellor’s sherpa in all questions involving fiscal and monetary policy.
The G7/G8 process has changed significantly over the years. In addition to cooperating at the level of heads of state, the G7 now also holds separate meetings attended by finance ministers and central bank governors. This close cooperation in the area of fiscal and monetary policy is based on the recognition that – given the growing interdependence of the global economy – the economic, monetary and trade policies of major economies tend to affect other countries. Even after the establishment of the G20 as the central forum for international cooperation in the area of economic and fiscal policy, G7 finance ministers and central bank governors still usually meet several times a year to discuss pressing fiscal and monetary policy issues. In addition to their discussions on these issues, which are of particular interest to the G7 countries, the G7 also functions as a catalyst within the G20. Furthermore, thanks to its long-standing tradition of close cooperation, the G7 is able to react swiftly and efficiently in crisis situations.
The meetings of G7 finance ministers and central bank governors are supplemented by regular confidential meetings of their representatives, who are referred to as G7 deputies.
Further information on the G7/G8 is available from the Information Centre of the University of Toronto.