The Group of Six (G6) was an unofficial forum which brought together the heads of the richest industrialized countries: France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States starting in 1976. The G7, meeting for the first time in 1979, was formed with the addition of Canada. Hence, The G8, meeting for the first time in 1997, was formed with the addition of Russia. In addition, the President of the European Commission has been formally included in summits since 1981. The summits were not meant to be linked formally with wider international institutions; and in fact, a mild rebellion against the stiff formality of other international meetings was a part of the genesis of cooperation between France's President Giscard d'Estaing and West Germany's Chancellor Helmut Schmidt as they conceived the initial summit of the Group of Six (G6) in 1975.
The G8 summits have inspired widespread debates, protests and demonstrations; and the two- or three-day event becomes more than the sum of its parts, elevating the participants, the issues and the venue as focal points for activist pressure.
The form and functions of the G8 were reevaluated as the G-20 summits evolved into the premier forum for discussing, planning and monitoring international economic cooperation. The "new G8" is refocusing on the subjects of common interest to the G8 countries, including geopolitical and security issues.
The forum continues to be in a process of transformation.
The G8 is an unofficial annual forum for the leaders of Canada, the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The 37th G8 summit was the last summit for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Dmitry Medvedev as President of Russia (Medvedev would return to the 38th G8 summit the following year as Prime Minister of Russia, leading Russian delegates in place for the newly elected President Vladimir Putin).
These summit participants represent the current core members of the international forum:
A number of national leaders are traditionally invited to attend the summit. These invitees participate in some, but not all, G8 summit activities. This year, African leaders at the G8 included: Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President
Egypt Essam Sharaf, Prime Minister
Ethiopia Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister
Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President
Senegal Abdoulaye Wade, President
South Africa Jacob Zuma, President
Tunisia Béji Caïd Essebsi, Prime Minister
The President of Nigeria was invited, but Goodluck Jonathan decided not to attend at the last minute. He worried that volcanic ash from an eruption in Iceland might delay his return flight to Nigeria; and this could disrupt his planned inauguration ceremonies on May 29.
Leaders of the major international organisations have also been invited to attend previous summit meetings. Among this year's summit participants were:Arab League Amr Moussa, Chairman
African Union (AU) Jean Ping, Chairman
New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)
United Nations Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General
Traditionally, the host country of the G8 summit sets the agenda for negotiations, but world events caused the list of topics to expand, including such issues such as the Fukushima nuclear accident the European sovereign debt crisis, the conflict in Libya, Iran’s nuclear programme, Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests, and the selection of a new managing director for the International Monetary Fund.
The summit is a venue for resolving differences among its members. As a practical matter, the summit was also conceived as an opportunity for its members to give each other mutual encouragement in the face of difficult economic decisions. The G-8 has become a forum for political and strategic discussions, and as a caucus within the G-20.
The agenda for the summit included some issues which remained unresolved from previous summits. French general priorities included:
- New common challenges: the Internet, innovation, green growth and a sustainable economy, and nuclear safety
- The 'Arab Springs': a partnership for democracy
- Strengthening the partnership with Africa: a long-term vision
- Peace and security: traditional themes of the G8
Some of the specific topics on the agenda were:Afghanistan;
G8 + Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA);
The Internet: new challenges
Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
The G8's Partnership with Africa
Transatlantic Cocaine Trafficking
G8 political and security issues
Citizens' responses and authorities' counter-responses
Protest groups and other activists were expected to make a showing at the summit. The slogan G8 dégage ("G8 Go Away") was a recurring element of the demonstrations.
Protesters expressed their concerns about capitalism and what they perceive as the imperialism of western liberal democracies. The demonstrators are widely understood to be against globalisation.
This annual gathering of international leaders is an international event which is observed and reported by news media; and the G8's relevance and accomplishments are continuing topics of discussion. The event brings leaders together not so they can dream up quick fixes, but to talk and think about them together.
The 2011 summit meeting was marked by what the G8 called the "Deauville Partnership" with the people of North Africa. As a start, $20 billion were pledged in support for Tunisian and Egyptian reforms due to the Arab Spring.
Security planning was designed to ensure that the summit's formal agenda can remain the primary focus of the attendees' discussions; but effectively this meant converting the seaside resort into a fortress for the G8.
In 2010, President Sarkozy projected that the summits in Deauville and Cannes would cost "ten times less" than the preceding Canadian summits.
For some, the G8 summit became a profit-generating event. For example, the G8 Summit magazines have been published under the auspices of the host nations for distribution to all attendees since 1998.
According to the Mayor of Deauville, "Our main interest is the economic implications."