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Brussels, 6 July 2009

FAQs: the G8 Summit in L'Aquila (Italy) from 8-10 July 2009

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 and has a leading role in representing the Union at the G8 summit, along with the country holding the Presidency of the European Council (Sweden from 1 July).

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”.

Sequence of recent G8 Presidencies: United Kingdom (2005), Russia (2006), Germany (2007), Japan (2008), Italy (2009). In 2010 Canada will hold the G8 Presidency.

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 EU had a limited role to those areas in which it had exclusive competences, but 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 the President's G8 “Sherpa” (João Vale de Almeida, who is also 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 of the Commission endorses at the Summit is politically binding.

Why are the leaders of third countries and international organisations invited to meet G8 leaders during the summit?

Outreach with third countries has always been an important feature of G8 Summits. Given the increased dimension and culmination of global challenges, more coordination, cooperation and dialogue have been entering the world stage. This year's G8 summit will reflect the strong willingness of G8 leaders to make the dialogue with their global partners an integral and important part of the summit and to build bridges towards other ongoing processes, notably the UN climate negotiations and the G20.

What does the provisional programme look like? Who will participate in the different parts of the programme?

The provisional programme of the 2009 G8 summit comprises a meeting of the G8 leaders on the first day. The second day will see a meeting of the G8 + G5 leaders (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa) and Egypt, followed by the Junior 8 meeting as well as the Major Economies Forum (G8 + their counterparts from Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Republic of Korea and South Africa). The third and last day will bring together the G8 with African leaders from Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, South Africa and Ethiopia as well as Libya as holder of the presidency of the African Union and Angola.

The United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, International Energy Agency, the International Labour Organisation, the World Trade Organisation, the African Union, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme will also attend some of the meetings.

8 July: The summit will start with a G8 working lunch on the world economy, followed by a session on global issues, bilateral political meetings and a dinner where international issues will be discussed.

9 July: The second day will begin with a G8+G5+Egypt morning session on global issues/development. Future sources of growth will be the theme for the working lunch. In the afternoon trade and climate change will be discussed in the context of the Major Economies Forum, followed by a dinner hosted by Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Italian Republic.

10 July: The last day of the G8 summit will start with a working breakfast with African leaders on the impact of the crisis on developing countries, followed by a food security session with all participants.

Why is the G8 so important?

G8 summits are uniquely important. This 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” binding. These are decisions taken by leaders personally and very publicly, after often intense 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 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 was using the G8 in 2007 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. In Heiligendamm, G8 leaders agreed to "seriously consider halving global emissions by 2050", which was seen as a major step forward. In 2008, G8 leaders in Japan shared the vision of a global goal of halving greenhouse gas emission by 2050 with the emerging economies and decided to establish the International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation; they decided to address together the important challenge of global food security, in particular by supporting the Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security. In this occasion, G8 leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to achieving of the Milennium Development Goals.

Perhaps the best feature about the G8 is that it forces a group of world leaders 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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