What does the G7 do and which countries belong to this elite group of nations?

Once a year, leaders of the G7 nations, a group of the world's richest countries, gather to discuss global issues and economic policies.

On Saturday they will meet for a three-day summit in France, but who is part of this elite group, what is its purpose and what do the leaders actually do?

  • What does G7 stand for?

Rather unimaginatively, the Group of Seven.

  • Which nations are part of G7?

Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

These countries have the largest IMF-described advanced economies in the world and represent 58% of the global net wealth.

Since 1977, representatives from the EU have attended the annual G7 summits despite not having official status as a member of the group.

Then heads of state meet in Ontario, Canada in 2010. Credit: AP
  • Wait, didn't it used to be the G8?

Yes, it did.

Having been the G7's plus one for several years, Russia was finally asked to formally join the world's most exclusive club under Boris Yeltsin's leadership in 1998.

But under Vladimir Putin, Russia was booted out in 2014 after the other world leaders (including then US president Barack Obama) voted to suspend Russia's membership in response to its annexation of Crimea.

Current US President Donald Trump would like Russia to be reinstated, and according to a senior administration official, French President Emmanuel Macron is said to have agreed to the ousted nation being invited to the G7 conference in 2020 when the US will host.

But a lot can happen in a year...

  • Where is it held?

It is organised under a rotating presidency so every country gets a chance to play host.

The annual summit was held in Quebec, Canada in 2018; in 2019, the G7 meet in Biarritz, France and in 2020 Mr Trump will be throwing open his doors to his fellow leaders.

Vladimir Putin behind David Cameron at the G8 forum in 2013. Credit: PA
  • Why was it formed?

Founded in 1975 as the G6 (Canada was invited to join in 1976) as a reaction to tumultuous geopolitical and economic events, the G7 grew out of an informal gathering of finance ministers from the UK, US, France, Japan and West Germany formed in light of the 1973 oil crisis which threatened to increase the price of oil and cut off supplies.

Initially this group became known as the Big Five.

But a series of political scandals, including the resignation of then US president Richard Nixon, led to a revolving door of leaders among the large economic nations, prompting the new US president Gerald Ford to ask some other newly elected leaders to hold a retreat to get to know one another at the Château de Rambouillet in France in 1975.

Protester clash with police in London during the G8 summit in the capital in 2013. Credit: PA
  • What does it actually do?

The original scope of the G7 has expanded and it now covers a large number of international issues, including security, gender equality, climate change, trade, and poverty.

The country holding the G7 presidency can also put topics they would like to see discussed on the agenda.

The forum responds to the big global issues of the day, although not always successfully; in 2013, world leaders tackled the developing Syria crisis with no resolution.

More recent meetings have covered topics like North Korean nuclear armament, environmental issues, Brexit implications, and the rise and fall of so-called Islamic State.

US president Donald Trump at 2018's G7 summit in Canada. Credit: PA
  • Nice of them to meet to sort out the world's issues, but haven't many of these countries got problems of their own?

Well, yes, one or two. Britain is buckling under political and social division over Brexit; French leader Emmanuel Macron's presidency has been rocked by continuing Yellow Vest demonstrations that have led to months of protest against the man who was once seen as Europe's great hope.

Meanwhile Italy faces a "dizzying spiral of political and financial instability" following the resignation of prime minister Giuseppe Conte in August 2019 as the far-right under deputy PM Matteo Salvini continue to make gains in the country.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, a stabilising figure not just in her native Germany but across Europe, faces speculation over her health as she prepares to step down, leaving behind a fractured political landscape.

Away from Europe, having come to power on a wave of "trudeaumania", promising to “do politics differently”, cracks have appeared in the Canadian Prime Minister's fresh, shiny image after Justin Trudeau became the subject of an investigation by the country's Ethics Commissioner.

Meanwhile Mr Trump's foreign policy continues to isolate the US from the world stage over issues including Iran and China, while tensions between Japan and South Korea, two American allies, mount over trade and intelligence disagreements.

So, yes, it may not be all gin and tonics on the terrace.

Russia under Boris Yelsin was invited to join in 1998. Credit: PA
  • Not everyone likes the G7

It's perhaps not surprising that an invitation-only group of rich, powerful (mostly men) that ostracises entire continents invites criticism for its elitism and even its whiff of conspiracy.

G7 - and before that, G8 - meetings have been the target of anti-globalisation demonstrations at nearly every summit since 2000 and these protests have sometimes exceeded in overshadowing the forum itself.

The protests peaked at the 27th G8 summit in Genoa, Italy in July 2001 when violent clashes between police and demonstrators led to the fatal shooting of 23-year-old activist Carlo Giuliani.

More than 400 people were injured and as many arrested.