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FAQs: the G8 Summit

European Commission - MEMO/06/274   10/07/2006

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MEMO/06/274

Brussels, 10 July 2006

FAQs: the G8 Summit

Who are the G8 Members?

The G8 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The European Commission President is a full G8 Member. The European Union is represented at the Summit itself by the President of the Commission and by the President of the European Council.

What is the G8?

The G8 is an annual meeting for discussion and co-operation created by the world's major industrialised countries. The G8 is neither an institution nor an international organisation and has no legal basis. The G8 takes no binding decisions and there are no formal rules of procedure or a permanent secretariat. Instead the G8 operates as a sort of informal “club”.

When did it start?

  • The first Summit took place in 1975 in Rambouillet, France. The Leaders of Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States were invited by the President of France to discuss economic and financial issues at what was then called an Economic Summit.
  • Canada became a member in 1976.
  • The European Commission President was invited to attend the 1977 London Summit (the Commission’s role was initially limited to its areas of exclusive competences).
  • In the 1981 Ottawa Summit, the European Commission President fully participated in all summit discussions for the first time, and has done so ever since.
  • Russia joined at 1998 summit, Birmingham, UK.

How does it work?

The year-long G8 Presidency, rotates between the group’s member nations on an annual basis, following the cycle of when a country first hosted the Summit. The country holding the Presidency in a given year is responsible for hosting the annual summit and for managing the agenda. The Summits are prepared by a group of personal representatives of each of the leaders, know as “Sherpas”.

Russia took over the G8 Presidency, for the first time, on 1 January 2006 and will host the 2006 G8 Summit in St Petersburg from 15-17 July. Germany will take on the G8 Presidency in 2007.

What are the main issues that will be discussed at the G8 Summit this year?

The Russian Presidency has identified three main themes for this year’s G8 Summit: Energy Security, Infectious Diseases and Education.

The key challenge for the summit, is to agree a core set of global energy security principles to act as a framework for G8 countries and other countries – producers, consumers and transit countries – in facing up to the new energy reality.

The other two priority issues for the Russian Presidency are infectious diseases and education. There will be continuing work on other key issues such as counterterrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional issues and the world economy and trade.

Why is the European Union at the G8 Summit?

Because even in 1975, when the first Rambouillet Summit was held, the then European Community was already a unique supranational organisation. In some sectors decision-making had been transferred from individual member states to a Community level. It had exclusive competence in international trade and agriculture policy, for example. Clearly, it made no sense for G8 members to discuss economic issues like international trade without Community involvement.

Representatives of the then European Community began participating in the London Summit in 1977. Originally, the Community had a limited role to those areas in which it had exclusive competences, but the Community’s and now the EU’s role has grown with time. The European Commission was gradually included in all political discussions on the summit agenda and took part in all summit working sessions, as of the Ottawa Summit (1981). Today the President of the European Commission participates as a full member in the annual G8 summits and the European Commission in all the summit preparations through his “Sherpa” (João Vale de Almeida is his Head of Cabinet).

When the Presidency of the European Council is held by a non G8 country, the EU Presidency takes part in the Summit but not the pre Summit preparatory meetings. This year President Barroso and Finnish Prime Minister Vanhanen will be in St. Petersburg on behalf of the EU.

If the EU is a G8 Member, why is it not called the G9?

The EC is a unique supranational organisation - not a sovereign Member State – hence the name G8 “Group of Eight Nations.” For the same reason, the EC does not assume the rotating G8 presidency.

Why is the G8 so important?

G8 summits are uniquely important. This small, informal grouping brings together the leaders of some of the world’s leading industrial nations. It is capable of setting the global agenda because decisions taken by these major economic powers have a real impact. And the political direction set by these leaders on a policy issue will have a “ripple” effect across many other international organisations and institutions – bear in mind that, for example, four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are in the G8. The G8 is a very powerful catalyst for change.

Are decisions taken at G8 Summits legally biding?

Decisions taken at the G8 are not legally binding, but they are “politically” very binding. These are decisions taken by leaders personally and very publicly, after one-to-one discussions with their peers. There is a huge political imperative for leaders to live up to the decisions they take at this level.

What about last year? Has the EU delivered on the promises it made on Africa at the G8 in Gleneagles last year?

The three main pledges made at Gleneagles related to debt relief, aid and trade. G8 leaders agreed to: full debt cancellation for 18 African countries; a $50bn (£28.8bn) boost to aid to developing countries; on trade there was a commitment to work towards cutting subsidies and tariffs; African leaders committed to democracy and good governance as part of the deal.

Last year the European Union took important commitments in the run up to the G8 Summit in Gleneagles. This enabled Europe to play a leading role in aid and trade by providing 80% of the $ 50 billion to Africa committed at Gleneagles, by pushing for and getting a development package at the Hong Kong Ministerial in December, including a € 2 billion pledge of aid for trade.

  • On aid financing, Europe is delivering. It has not just met its commitment to reach aid worth 0.39% of GNI by 2006; as the Commission has reported, it will probably pass this mark and deliver aid worth 0.42% of GNI this year.
  • On trade, as the Commission has recently reported, the recent revision of the Commission’s preferential trade scheme, the Generalised System of Preferences, has extended the scheme to 300 additional products - mostly in the agriculture and fishery sectors. A new GSP Plus arrangement has been established targeted at especially vulnerable countries that have ratified and effectively implemented key international conventions related to sustainable development. Currently it ensures duty free treatment in 91% of tariff lines and therefore represents an extremely generous level of access. This is on top of the Everything But Arms arrangements that provide duty free access for nearly all goods from Least Developed Countries.
  • But more needs to be done. Hence the importance and urgency of reaching a balanced and ambitious outcome to the Doha trade round which will benefit development. That is what the Commission is working towards in the coming weeks and days.

For more information please visit:
http://ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/president/index_en.htm
http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/g7_g8/intro/index.htm


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