How does the G7 work?

The G7 is a forum for dialogue at the highest level attended by the leaders of the world’s most important industrially advanced democracies. Its chief features are the intergovernmental nature of the preparatory process and its informality, which makes it easier for the leaders to discuss the world’s major issues and to rapidly devise and agree on solutions to them. Given that it is not an international organization, it is devoid of any kind of administrative structure or permanent secretariat.

The Presidency

The Presidency is held by each of the member countries in turn, in the following order: France, United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. The European Union attends the G7 but neither chairs nor hosts Summits.

Italy will hold the Presidency from January 1 to December 31, 2017, a role it has played on five previous occasions in the history of the Group of Seven. It will thus be Italy’s responsibility to: propose and identify the Group’s priorities for action and consequently those areas requiring intervention; host and organize the technical and informal meetings that pave the way to the Summit, attended by the relevant Heads of State and of Government, as well as all the Ministerial Meetings; prepare the drafts and final texts of all supporting documents, including the Final Communiqué. The latter, adopted by the leaders at the end of each Summit, summarizes the main global issues debated during the year. While this communiqué is not a binding document in the strictest sense of the term, it is nonetheless of the utmost importance. It enshrines the pledges that the G7 Heads of State and of Government make regarding the political guidelines that they intend to pursue together.

The Summit

The annual Summit of the Heads of State and of Government is usually held in the middle of the year and is the highest-profile event of the entire G7 Presidency. The Summit in Taormina will be held on May 26-27, 2017, and will be attended not only by the G7 member countries’ leaders but also by the leaders of select International Organizations, and by the Heads of State and of Government of “outreach” countries and of countries invited as guests of the Presidency.

The event is spread out over two working days and winds up with the submission and adoption of the Final Communiqué. France and the United States are represented by their Heads of State, while the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada are represented by their Heads of Government. The European Union is represented by both the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council.

Ministerial Meetings

Starting with the Birmingham Summit in 1998 and in consideration of a gradual expansion in the G7 leaders’ working agenda, it has become the custom, alongside the traditional Summit, to organize a similar style of meeting at the ministerial level. While the number and agenda of ministerial meetings is left to the Presidency to decide, the traditional meetings held by the G7’s Foreign Ministers, Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors have become a permanent fixture from one Presidency to the next. In addition to these encounters, however, meetings have also been convened involving Ministers for the Environment, Energy, Development, Employment, Justice, the Interior, Scientific Research, and Agriculture. Italy will be hosting a meeting of Cultural Affairs Ministers for the first time in the history of the G7 in Florence on March 30-31, 2017.

Ministerial meetings are independent of the Summit of the Heads of State and of Government. Some of the most important conclusions reached at ministerial meetings, however, are reflected in the Final Communiqué issued at the end of the G7 Summit.

Sherpas, Political Directors and Foreign Affairs Sous-Sherpas

The G7 is an institutional structure headed by a “Sherpa”, and supported by a “Foreign Affairs Sous-Sherpa” (FASS) and a “Political Director” (PD). Each Head of State and of Government at the G7 has a personal representative for all matters connected with the Summit’s working agenda, and this figure is called a Sherpa (named metaphorically after the high-altitude porters who accompany expeditions in the Himalayas). He or she is also responsible for the preparatory process preceding the Summit and oversees negotiations regarding the drafting of the Final Communiqué. Sherpas regularly communicate with each other in connection with their respective leaders’ positions and proposals on international issues, and they are in touch with their leaders directly at all times. The post of Sherpa in Italy is traditionally held by a high-ranking diplomat.

The Sherpa is assisted by a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the PD) who is responsible for foreign and security policy issues, and by another representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the FASS) who is generally in charge of such cross-cutting issues as the environment, social and economic aspects, and development. The Economy and Finance Ministry, on the other hand, handles the economic and financial issues on the Summit’s agenda.

Ad hoc working groups can also be set up to address particularly complex, technical issues.

Working Groups

A number of working groups comprising experts from the G7 member countries have been set up over the years to follow up on the pledges made by the Heads of State and of Government and to explore the more technical aspects of the debates in greater depth. Under the guiding hand of the Sherpas, Political Directors and Foreign Affairs Sous-Sherpas, the G7 countries’ experts address such specific issues as health, food safety, development, energy, environmental protection, non-proliferation and support for the United Nations’ peacekeeping and peace-consolidating operations.

Dialogue with the Emerging Economies, Developing Countries and International Organizations

The involvement of the emerging economies, of developing countries and of international organizations has kept pace with, and reflects, a gradual evolution in the issues addressed by the Group of Seven. Initial interest in issues relating solely to financial stability and to macro-economic coordination were soon joined by an interest in other crucial themes ranging from development in Africa and climate change to food safety and the resolution of international crises. It was Italy, in Genoa in 2001, that inaugurated the now traditional “African segment” of the Summit, with dialogue sessions between the G7 leaders and the African countries invited by the Presidency.

Dialogue with Civil Society

Civil society is a crucial interlocutor for the G7 Presidencies. It plays an advocacy role, helping mobilize key actors and bringing institutions closer to the grassroots level. Civil society also encourages and monitors the leaders, to ensure that they honor the pledges they have made. Italy has initiated ongoing dialogue with all the representatives of the so-called G7 engagement groups (Business7, Civil7, ThinkThank7, Labor7, Science7, Women7 and Youth7), which will not only submit their policy recommendations to the leaders and institutions in connection with the issues on the G7 agenda, but will also organize their own parallel summits over the course of Italy’s Presidency.