Group of Eight
Group of Eight
What It Means
The Group of Eight, or G8, is an organization that consists of eight of the world’s largest industrialized democratic nations and that is dedicated to discussing major political and economic issues. It is an offshoot of the G6 (later known as the G7), an organization formed in 1975 to address issues relating to the global economy. When the G6 was founded, its member nations were the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and West Germany (now Germany); Canada joined a year later, at which point the group became the G7. Russia began participating in the meetings in 1994; in 1997 the organization shifted its focus from economic to political matters and became known as the Group of Eight. Because Russia is not as economically powerful as other G8 members, it does not participate in the group’s economic meetings, which the original G7 members continue to hold on an annual basis.
Although the Group of Eight has emerged as one of the most influential political associations in the world, its structure remains relatively informal, and it is not officially recognized as an international organization (as groups such as the World Bank and the United Nations are). The bulk of the G8’s agenda is addressed during an annual meeting of the heads of the member nations’ governments. In preparation for this event (called a summit), representatives from each country hold a series of meetings to set the agenda and discuss other relevant issues.
In 2006 the G8 nations accounted for 70 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product (GDP), which is the value of all goods and services produced over a set period of time.
When Did It Begin
The Group of Eight evolved from a smaller group that was founded in 1973. That year U.S. Treasury Secretary George P. Shultz (b. 1920) invited representatives from the governments of Germany, the United Kingdom, and France to participate in a meeting to discuss international economic policy. Because the meeting occurred in the White House Library, this group of nations became known as the Library Group.
In 1975, in order to continue discussions of these economic issues, French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (b. 1926) invited the leaders of the world’s six most prosperous democratic nations to attend a summit. On this occasion the group agreed to begin meeting annually, with each representative assuming the role of president on a rotating basis. Participants at the first meeting were the United States, France, West Germany, Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Canada joined the group the following year, and in 1977 the head of the European Economic Community also participated. By this time the group had become known as the Group of Seven, or G7.
In 1994 Russia began meeting with the G7 nations to discuss political concerns of vital interest to the world’s most powerful nations. These meetings came to be referred to as the P8, or Political Eight; the group was also known, informally, as the “G7 plus one.” When Russia officially joined the group in 1997, the G7 became known as the Group of Eight, or G8. Although the G8 began focusing solely on political matters, representatives of the G7 nations continued to meet annually to address economic issues.
More Detailed Information
The G8 is predominantly concerned with political and economic issues that affect the international community as a whole. Major issues since the 1990s have included global law-enforcement initiatives, environmental quality, health issues, and other matters that affect international relations.
As the G8 entered the twenty-first century, it had to confront new issues and new threats. Chief among these was international terrorism. In order to combat the proliferation of terrorist organizations worldwide, the G8 began to seek new ways of promoting international cooperation. At its 2005 summit meeting the group devised a plan to create an international database of terrorist activities through which the member nations could pool information concerning specific terror plots, prominent terrorist leaders, and other vital data. In a somber coincidence, on July 7, the second day of that year’s G8 meetings, terrorists bombed the London subway system, killing more than 50 people.
By the early twenty-first century other nations had begun to show interest in participating in the organization. Spain, which had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world during this period, began to lobby for inclusion in the group in 2006.
When the original Group of Seven formed in 1976, Russia still belonged to the Soviet Union, a confederation of socialist states that extended from Eastern Europe to the Pacific coast of Asia. One of the world’s two dominant superpowers (along with the United States), the Soviet Union had a tense relationship with the leading democratic countries from the 1950s to the early 1990s, a period usually referred to as the Cold War. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, the newly democratic Russian state began to participate informally in talks with G7 nations, eventually joining the group to form the G8. After the election of Vladimir Putin (b. 1952) to the office of Russian president in 1999, however, relations between Russia and the other nations once again cooled, as political leaders began to fear that the conservative Putin would scale back some of Russia’s democratic reforms. By 2005 politicians in the United States, notably Senator Joseph Lieberman (b. 1942) of Connecticut and Senator John McCain (b. 1936) of Arizona, began to insist that Russia be suspended from the G8 for what they perceived to be Putin’s repressive political policies.
Group of Eight