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Brussels, 4 June 2007

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. When a European member of the G8 hosts the Summit at the same time as holding the EU Presidency, the two roles are combined as is the case now for Germany in 2007 and as happened under the UK EU Presidency in 2005.

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 the 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, known as “Sherpas”.

Following on from 1978, 1985, 1992 and 1999, Germany and Chancellor Merkel will once again host the 2007 G8 Summit in the Baltic seaside resort of Heiligendamm from 6 -8 June. After 1978 and 1999, this is also the third time that Germany combines the role of EU and G8 Presidencies.

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

The Leitmotiv of the German G8 Presidency is growth and responsibility in the world economy and growth and responsibility in Africa. Under these two broad chapters, the Presidency has identified specific priorities.

Under the economy heading the Presidency is looking for outcomes on:

  • Global imbalances;
  • Financial stability including hedge funds;
  • Freedom of investment, investment environment and social responsibility
  • Protecting and promoting innovation;
  • Climate change and energy efficiency;
  • Corruption;
  • Raw materials.

For Africa, Germany wants the G8 to give an impetus to:

  • Strengthening good governance;
  • Fostering investment and growth;
  • Promoting peace and security;
  • Improving health systems, fighting HIV/AIDS.

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).

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

The European Commission 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. The European Commission is not a G8 member country but has all the privileges and obligations of membership except the right to host and chair a Summit. The Commission has all the responsibilities of membership, and what the President endorses at the Summit is politically binding on him too.

Why are the emerging economies and several African states invited to the 2007 G8 summit?

So called Outreach with third countries is an important feature of G8 Summits. This year, Chancellor Merkel has invited five emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa) because global problems like climate change and energy are not confined to the Group of Eight and can only be tackled through cooperation and dialogue with the so-called emerging economies. Several African Leaders are also invited, too, because growth and responsibility in Africa is placed high on the agenda.

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.

Does the G8 make a difference? What has been achieved by the G8 in the last years?

Although the G8 is sometimes seen as being omnipotent or the world’s directoire by anti-globalization protestors, it is also criticised for being irrelevant or a moribund entity because it does not have real decision-making capacities. Nonetheless, the G8 can play a real and important role and the Summit should not be viewed as simply a symbolic meeting or only a photo-opportunity. For instance, the 1996 Summit in Lyon launched the first Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative while the preceding US and UK Presidencies have given the Summit process a new lease of life with attention to the Middle East, climate change and a doubling of aid to Africa. Germany is using the G8 this year as a platform to put growth and responsibility in the world economy, including climate change and energy efficiency, and growth and responsibility in Africa centre stage. Chancellor Merkel has invited selected Leaders from major emerging economies (Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and Mexico) as well as from Africa (Egypt, Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa) for a series of “outreach” sessions at Heiligendamm. Heads of international organisations like the UN, African Union, IMF and WTO will also be present on the last day.

Perhaps the best feature about the G8 is that it forces a small group of very senior policy makers to sit together and thrash out common approaches to identified problems and it has a huge co-operative and driving force. The key value added of the G8 is thus the impulse it can give to work in other fora.

In the restricted consensual forum that is the G8 and in the human context of meeting their peers regularly, the tendency is to reach some sort of compromise and complete rejections of Presidency initiatives are rare. Nobody wants to stay long in the corner. For example, the US first signed up to the idea that human activity was contributing to climate change in the G8.

Language agreed in the G8 is also generally reproduced or used as a basis for work in other instances. For example, the UN Security Council Resolution on Lebanon was based on the Saint Petersburg statement while the Canadians and the US generally try and replicate G8 text in any APEC communiqués. The finely honed Saint Petersburg compromise on energy security principles also regularly resurfaces.
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