The G7 Could Be in Its Death Throes—Again

The G7 Could Be in Its Death Throes—Again
The leaders of the G7 countries and the EU participate in a working session at the G7 Summit, in Borgo Egnazia, Italy, June 13, 2024 (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

As this column goes live, the 50th G7 Summit is taking place in Italy. At the gathering, the leaders of the United States, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France and Japan will likely reaffirm their commitment to maintaining a “rules-based international order,” renew their support for democracies against the encroachment of autocratic states and seek to ensure that countries follow fair trade practices. They have already made new pledges to Ukraine in its ongoing struggle against Russian aggression. They may also touch on domestic political challenges, as several of the leaders face critical elections in the coming weeks and months. Even Pope Francis is expected to make an appearance.

Reaching its 50th meeting is an important milestone for the grouping, with the annual gathering now a key date on the calendars of all these world leaders. The meetings originated in the early 1970s, starting with the informal “Library Group” gathering of finance ministers from France, the U.K., the U.S. and what at the time was still known as West Germany. That group, whose name referred to their choice of the White House library as their meeting place, was convened in the wake of the economic upheaval created by the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system and the oil embargo coordinated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Japan’s finance minister attended the meeting in 1974, and the group held its first official heads of state summit in 1975 at the Chateau de Rambouillet near Paris, France. Italy attended that meeting, and Canada was added the next year, making it the Group of Seven.   

As Nicolas Bayne, a longtime diplomat and expert on the G7, and Robert Putnam noted in their co-authored book on the group’s summits, when first conceived, the G7 was unique. At the time, there were established bodies, such as the United Nations Security Council, where diplomatic officials met and interacted on a nearly daily basis. But meetings of heads of state were more one-off and ad-hoc affairs. The G7’s regular summitry was something new and, as Bayne and Putnam put it, “virtually unprecedented in modern diplomacy.”

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