The global economy changed dramatically during the 1970s. Markets were rocked by the first oil crisis, while growing global trade revealed ever greater flaws in the fixed exchange-rate system. For this reason, the Heads of State and Government of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States met at the first “world economic summit” in Château de Rambouillet in France in 1975. With Canada’s participation the following year, the Group of Seven was complete. The European Union has also taken part in the annual summits since 1977. Russia was part of the group (G8) from 1998 until its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
That said, the G7 provides a forum for informal – and thus very frank – exchange on current challenges. The economically strong democracies in the group are linked by shared values and in many cases can highlight a clear standpoint, not least for the public, for instance on acute foreign and security policy crises. However, the G7 is not an international organisation and has no established structures such as a secretariat. The Presidency organises and prepares the ministerial meetings and the annual summit in particular, though generally in working groups.
G7 process: More than an annual summit
The most visible element of the summit process is the annual summit of Heads of State and Government, which is hosted by the Presidency and is usually held around the middle of the year. The meetings provide an opportunity to exchange views in person and to launch joint initiatives.
Since 1984, the G7 Foreign Ministers have met on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly. Since 1998, there has been an additional meeting in May, which generally adopts a comprehensive “Communiqué” on current foreign and security policy issues. Since the British Presidency in 2021, it has been customary to hold two in‑person meetings per year. In recent years, additional guests have increasingly been invited, in order to ensure a broader exchange. Further to these meetings at foreign minister level, the G7 coordinates closely and regularly at all levels, for example in thematic working groups. With regard to interministerial issues with a foreign policy element, the Federal Foreign Office also supports the G7 Sherpa Staff at the Federal Chancellery via the Foreign Affairs Sous‑Sherpas (FASS).
Wide range of issues at ministerial meetings
Initially, the G7 focused on financial and monetary issues, but now the range of topics discussed has expanded greatly: alongside the Heads of State and Government track, it includes foreign affairs, digital transformation and technology, finances, health, trade, home affairs, climate and energy, and transport.
Germany’s G7 Presidency in 2022
The Presidency of the G7 rotates annually among the members. Germany held the Presidency in 2022; in 2023, it was Japan’s turn, and Italy took over on 1 January 2024. The main focus of the German Presidency was ensuring that the G7, as a central crisis management mechanism, played a key role in supporting Ukraine in the face of the Russian war of aggression.