History of the G8
How It All Started
In the wake of the economic crisis that broke out in the early seventies, the main industrialised democracies decided – at the invitation of the French Government – to hold a top-level meeting providing an opportunity for an informal exchange of views and for talks on the measures that might be adopted to handle the serious economic and financial situation. That first meeting, which was thereafter to take place every year, was held in 1975, in the Château de Rambouillet, just outside Paris. It was attended by the Heads of State and Government of the main six industrialised countries: French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro, Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Miki, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and US President Gerald Ford.
From G6 to G8
The initial purpose of the “Group of Six” (G6) was to join forces to address the mid-seventies economic crises, and the repercussions of the oil shock in particular, and the international monetary system reform necessitated by the demise of the Bretton Woods currency exchange system based on the dollar’s convertibility into gold.
In less than two years, Canada’s admission in 1977 turned the G6 into the G7. The European Community was also invited to attend.
The Soviet Union was invited for the first time to the forums held in parallel with the London G7 Summit in 1991. The new Russian Federation was subsequently brought gradually into the G7 process, until Russian President Boris Yeltsin made his début at the Naples Summit in 1994, thus launching the format dubbed G7+1.
It was the Denver Summit in 1997 that – at the invitation of the United States and the United Kingdom – brought Russia in as a member of the G8 in its own right. The first Summit chaired by Russia was held in St. Petersburg in July 2006.
How the Topics Have Evolved
The topics addressed by the Heads of State and Government at the G7 Summits were largely of an economic and financial nature in the first few years. Even now, the ministers of economic affairs and finance continue to meet in the G7 format, which preserves its own specific focus on their spheres of action compared with the G8.
The agenda subsequently broadened, first in the form of the working parties and ministerial meetings, to take in new topics, such as health and nuclear power.
The Italian-chaired Venice Summit also addressed strictly political issues, such as the military occupation of Afghanistan and terrorism, as full-fledged items on the agenda. As the topics and levels of cooperation have been extended, the final statements issued by the Heads of State and Government at the annual Summits have become increasingly wide-ranging and detailed. The statements are not binding, but they are important because the Heads of State and Government make political pledges at the highest political level, indicating the direction in which they intend to move together on crucial issues, such as finance, development, the environment and security.
With the dawn of the nineties, capital market liberalisation combined with the rise of the emerging markets and the complexity of the new global challenges, such as the fight against poverty and development policies, urged the G8 to promote dialogue with the developing countries, and with Africa in particular.
The Summit held in Germany in 2007 saw the launch of dialogue with the major emerging economies – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa –, which has been dubbed the Heiligendamm Dialogue Process (HDP), on four topics: investment, energy, innovation and development. The final report on the Dialogue Process will be submitted to the 2009 Summit. It will fall to Italy, in its capacity as Presidency of both the G8 and the Heiligendamm Process, to propose the format to be adopted by the G8 for continuing dialogue with the emerging economies.
Its awareness of the global scale of climate change and of the pressing need for action has led the G8 to impart strong political thrust to the issue and actively to involve the emerging economies as well. At the initiative of the United States, the Major Economies Forum (MEF), a form of intensified dialogue among the major world economies, was launched in 2007 with a view to fostering a positive outcome for the UN negotiations on the future post-2012 agreement on climate. There are 16 countries taking part in the MEF: the G8 countries, the five major emerging economies (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) and Australia, South Korea and Indonesia.
Towards the New Challenges Posed by Globalisation
The G8’s track record from the mid-seventies to the present day has shown that the informal nature of its meetings has fostered an open exchange of views among countries that share democracy and similar levels of development.
The emergence of a world crisis in the financial and economic system in 2008 now poses a major new challenge for the Group of Eight, which, under the Italian Presidency, is being called upon to discuss a new form of world governance, based not least on a new, better-structured form of dialogue with the major emerging economies.