7 things you need to know about the G7

Many have heard the name G7, or Group of Seven, used to describe a series of global meetings that happen ever year between some of the world's most powerful countries. But what exactly this group does, how it was formed and what sets it apart from other international groups is often less well understood.

This summit is Justin Trudeau's third G7, his first as host

Police officers stand outside a security perimeter surrounding the media centre in preparation for the G7 Summit in Quebec City. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

You've probably heard the name G7, or Group of Seven — the title given to an association of the world's wealthiest and most powerful countries, and to the annual gatherings of their political leaders.

But what exactly does this group do? How it was formed and what sets it apart from other international organizations?

Here are seven things worth knowing about the G7 as Canada gets ready to host the world at the 2018 summit in Charlevoix, Que.

1. What is it?

The G7 is a collective of seven of the world's most industrialized and developed economies. Their political leaders come together annually to discuss important global economic, political, social and security issues.

The seven members of the group are France, Italy, Japan, Germany, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Since 1977, representatives from the European Union have attended the annual G7 summits despite not having official status as a member of the group. This year, President of the European Commission (the EU's bureaucracy) Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council (the leader of the country holding the rotating presidency of the EU) will attend on behalf of the EU.

Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien stands by former Russian president Boris Yeltsin as he gestures to photographers on arrival at Government House in Halifax, N.S., in 1995 for the G7 leaders' dinner at the Waegwoltic Club. (Andrew Vaughn/Canadian Press)

2. What happened to the G8?

In 1975 the leaders of France, West Germany, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States met outside Paris, at the Château de Rambouillet, to discuss the 1973 oil shock and the subsequent financial crisis.

This meeting of six countries became the first meeting of what would become the G7. When it was over, the leaders of the member states agreed to establish an annual rotating presidency and decided that the leaders of member countries would meet once a year to discuss important economic and political issues facing the world.

In 1976 the group became the G7 when Canada, under then prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was invited to join. The following year the G7 invited the president of the European Commission to attend.

In 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev was invited to meet with members of the G7 on the sidelines of the summit in London. By 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was participating in the G7 summit in Naples. Russia became a full member of what became known as the G8 in 1997 and went on to host the 2006 summit in St. Petersburg.

After Russia's military intervention in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the group suspended Russia's membership. The meeting Russia was set to chair in Sochi was moved to Brussels. Since then, the group has been known as the G7 again.

Germany's former minister of finance Hans Eichel, left, meets with his counterparts Gordon Brown, center, of Great Britain, and Paul Martin of Canada for the G20 meeting in Berlin, in Dec. 1999. It was the first meeting of the G20 group. (Jockel Finck/Associated Press)

3. So what's the G20, then?

The G20 is a forum for the world's leading developed and emerging economies. The group is made up of 19 countries and the European Union. Its membership includes Mexico, Japan, Italy, Indonesia, India, Germany, France, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. The G20 represents two thirds of the world's population and 85 per cent of global economic output.

Unlike the G7, the G20 is focused primarily on financial and economic issues facing the global economy. It was established at the G7 meeting of central bankers and finance ministers in 1999. Canada's then finance minister, Paul Martin, was instrumental in setting up the group, arguing that developing economies with regional influence should be included in discussions of global economic solutions.

Initially, the group facilitated the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers but in 2008 the G20 held its first leaders' summit. Since then, the group has continued to meet annually at the leadership level.

In this Dec. 23, 1973 file photo, cars line up in two directions at a gas station in New York City during the OPEC oil crisis. (Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press)

4. What does the G7 do?

The G7 was formed initially to discuss economic and political concerns prompted by the 1973 oil crisis — when members of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries, increased the price of oil and cut global supplies to countries seen as having backed Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

Since then, the group has expanded its brief to cover a large number of international issues, including energy security, trade, climate change, global health issues, gender equality, poverty — and any other topic the country holding the G7 presidency chooses to put on the agenda.

Canada has announced five themes for its presidency:

  • Working together on climate change, oceans and clean energy;
  • Preparing for jobs of the future;
  • Investing in growth that works for everyone;
  • Advancing gender equality and women's empowerment; and
  • Building a more peaceful and secure world.
Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greet onlookers in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

5. How is Trudeau putting his stamp on this G7?

For the first time, a G7 summit will have a Gender Equality Advisory Council.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the creation of the council in January with a stated purpose of ensuring that "gender equality and women's empowerment are integrated across all themes, activities and initiatives of Canada's G7 Presidency."

The 21 member council is co-chaired by Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and Isabelle Hudon, Canada's ambassador to France and Monaco. The council is made up of leading women from around the world, including Nobel laureate and peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani Nobel laureate who survived a Taliban murder attempt to become a leading advocate for the education of girls and women.

Trudeau and his ministers have been hinting for months that they will be able to announce some important policy initiatives at the meeting. The one that seems most likely is some sort of agreement on limiting plastics in the world's oceans.

From left to right; Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, French Foreign Affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano, and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy pose for a family photo ahead of G7 foreign ministers at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in April of this year. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

6. Who does the hard work?

Aside from leaders' meetings at the main G7 summit, throughout the year a country holds the presidency a number of ministerial level meetings take place.

This year, G7 employment and innovation ministers met from March 27 to 28, foreign affairs and security ministers met from April 22 to 24, finance ministers, development ministers and central bank governors met from May 31 to June 2 and in October environment and energy ministers will meet.

In April, for example, foreign ministers from G7 nations issued a statement condemning "in the strongest possible terms, the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal, using a nerve agent in Salisbury, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2018."

The statement went on to call on Russia to live up to its commitments and obligations under its chemical weapons convention and through its role as a member of the UN Security Council to uphold global peace and security.

The 'sherpas' — personal representatives of the heads of state who handle much of the summit preparation — also stay in regular communication throughout the year to ensure that certain policy initiatives line up so that when the leaders meet, they can sign a consensus document.

7. Where is it being held?

This is the sixth time Canada has hosted the G7 summit. For Trudeau, it will be his first time attending the summit as host, although he went to both last year's meeting in Taormina, Sicily, and the 2016 meeting in Shima, Japan.

The summit is being held at a historic hotel in the town of La Malbaie in Quebec's Charlevoix region, about 140 kilometres northeast of Quebec City. About 2,000 members of the international media are expected to attend — but they will be concentrated at a convention centre in Quebec City.

That is also where protesters are expected to gather.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump pose for a family photo at the Greek Theatre during the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, last year. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

While the specific dates for the next three summits have yet to be finalized, France will host the 2019 summit, the United States will host the 2020 summit and the U.K. will host the 2021 summit.