The Group of Eight (G8) is an annual meeting of the leaders of the world’s major industrial states. The purpose of the G8 is to have world leaders meet informally on economic and political issues facing their individual countries and the international community as a whole. Initially proposed by President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing of France and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany, the first summit, held at Rambouillet, France, in November 1975, included only six countries: France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, and Italy. The impetus of the meeting was to discuss the oil crisis. In 1976 President Gerald R. Ford called for a second summit, which initiated the annual nature of the meetings and established it as an institution. When Canada joined the group in 1976 it became known as the G7.
From 1976 to 1990 the G7 met annually; sometimes on the eve of the summit it included fifteen developing countries as in the 1989 Paris summit. Russia became part of the post-summit discussions from 1991 to 1994. These meetings are sometimes referred to as the P8 or Political Eight. Russia had partial membership as it was excluded from financial and other economic discussions. Russia obtained full membership in 1998 and in doing so, the G8 was born. There is an additional member of both the G7 and G8: the European Union.
The chair and location of the G8 are selected in a rotating manner starting with France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia (as of 2006), Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada. The position of chair is held for one full calendar year. The host country proposes the summit location and agenda and organizes preparatory meetings.
Despite the lack of formal structure, the G8 has had an effect on the world. A significant change to international organizations resulted from the 1995 Halifax, Canada, summit, where leaders agreed to amend the rules and procedures of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The agenda for the summits change from year to year and focus on the most pressing economic and social issues. During the Okinawa, Japan, meeting in 2000 the G8 agreed to provide further funding to fight infectious disease. The meeting also focused on issues regarding information and communications technology. The 2001 Geneva, Switzerland, meeting created the Global Fund to fight infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Because of the cooperation and dialogue of the world’s leaders accomplished through the G8, it has also attracted the attention of protestors. Probably the largest and most violent meeting was held in Genoa, Italy, in 2001, where an anti-capitalist protestor was shot and killed while hundreds of others were injured during a clash with police. In subsequent years the G8 has tried to open discussions with nongovernmental organizations and include other developing nations.
The G8 meeting hosted by Britain in Perthshire, Scotland, was interrupted by terrorist attacks on London’s transit system on July 7, 2005. Tony Blair, the host of the meeting, left for a brief time to visit London while the other leaders remained to continue the discussion and agenda that was set. The issue of global terrorism has been on the agenda most years since 1978.
G8 Information Centre. University of Toronto. http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/.
Lydia A. Miljan