The Group of Eight
The Group of Eight (G8) is an unofficial forum for the leaders of the top industrially developed countries (Russia, USA, United Kingdom, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, Italy), with additional participation by the European Commission, within the framework of which approaches to international problems are agreed upon.
The history of the G8 (previously the G7) began in 1975 when at the initiative of the French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the first meeting of the leaders of six countries was organised at Rambouillet, with Canada joining a year later. Since 1977 the leader of the European Commission (recently also the current EU president) has also been invited to these summits. Initially, the G7 primarily discussed macroeconomic issues and global development trends, but current political issues were later added to the agenda. This procedure was consolidated for good during the consolidation into eight, from 1994.
The G8 is not an international organisation, it is not based on any international agreement, and does not have a charter or secretariat. Its decisions are not binding. As a rule, discussions centre on fixation of members' intentions to adhere to agreed-upon lines, or on recommendations to other participants in the international community to adopt defined approaches to problem solving.
The G8 has an established working procedure. The country holding the yearly summit assumes the G8 presidency for the entire year. It organises the summit, as well as ministerial and working meetings, and coordinates all the G8's activities. At the end of the year the presidency passes to the next country based on a system of rotation.
The rotation cycle begins with France, followed by the USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. At the 2002 summit in Canada, a resolution was adopted to give Russia the G8 presidency in 2006, after the United Kingdom, with the 2006 summit being held in our country.
The annual procedure of the G8 is primarily oriented toward preparation for and holding the summit – the main activity of the G8. In 2004 it was hosted by the USA on Sea Island, and last year's was held on 6-8 June at Gleneagles, United Kingdom.
Discussions between heads of state and government take place privately and confidentially in an informal atmosphere, and their content is not made public. The same applies to the ministerial meetings and sittings of working bodies. At the same time, the G8 aims to ensure transparency of its work, and to strengthen dialogue with the public and non-governmental organisations.
The G8 functions based on the principle of consensus. Joint documents are, as a rule, adopted as a result of summits or ministerial meetings, and are then distributed through the media. For particularly important international events, special statements of the G8 leaders or ministers are agreed upon without holding personal meetings.
Interaction within the G8 takes place through a flexible multi-level structure, which ensures effectiveness of functions.
An important role in the process of preparation for summits is played by regular meetings of foreign ministers (which take place on the eve of summits and around UN General Assembly sessions, with extraordinary meetings being organised where necessary) and finance ministers (on the eve of summits and in conjunction with sessions of the IMF and World Bank). Meetings of other ministers take place by agreement during the course of summits, including meetings of ministers of the environment, energy, labour and social development, health, education, internal affairs and justice, science and technology, etc.
All preparatory work is led and coordinated by Sherpas (personal representatives of heads of state and government). This channel is also used for confidential exchange of information and for consultation.
The Sherpas head 'national teams' containing political directors (who deal with key foreign policy issues under foreign ministry jurisdiction – disarmament and non-proliferation, international terrorism, regional issues, etc), foreign-policy Sous Sherpas (who deal with international issues, primarily of a socioeconomic and humanitarian nature, that are not within the remit of the political directors; in practice they assist the Sherpas in development of these themes and agreement on positions), and financial Sous Sherpas (who deal with financial issues and assist the Sherpas in their work in this field).
As part of summit preparation, several meetings generally take place between Sherpas and Sous Sherpas. Preparatory work is concluded by a plenary sitting, at which the national teams 'synchronise watches' with regard to the agenda for the leaders' meeting, drafts of joint summary documents are developed, and remaining organisational and other practical issues for the summit are resolved.
Meetings of political directors serve as preparation both for the summits themselves and for meetings of G8 foreign ministers, where key political issues are developed for the agenda of the leaders' meetings.
Constant exchange of opinions and agreement of positions takes place on all levels through telephone communications and written correspondence.
Special-purpose, working and expert groups have been created in many fields. These groups are usually set up for practical work in relation to issues of a long-term nature based on leaders' or ministers' decisions, or in order to fulfil specific tasks in advance of summits. Depending on their mandate, they may be overseen by a political director, a Sous Sherpa, or a Sherpa.
Another practice, including in preparation for ministers' meetings and in order to ensure coordinated participation in international activities, is to hold separate meetings and seminars for experts in certain aspects of the G8's activities (development problems, healthcare, environmental preservation, environmental aspects of export crediting, food safety, etc.)