Cornwall G7 summit: What does the Group of Seven do, which countries belong to it and what's on the 2021 agenda?

G7 in France, 2019
In the two years since the last G7 meeting, many of the leaders have changed. Credit: AP

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 Friday, they will meet for a three-day summit in the popular holiday destination of Carbis Bay in Cornwall, 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.

After Russia was booted out in 2014, the G8 became the G7. 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.

  • 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 met in Biarritz, France and in 2021, leaders and the world's media will be descending on the idyllic village of Carbis Bay in Cornwall.

Carbis Bay is more used to holidaying families descending on it than world leaders. Credit: Flickr/shirokazan
  • 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.

  • 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.

Russia under Boris Yelsin was invited to join in 1998. Credit: PA
  • What's on the agenda this year?

The focus of the 2021 summit will be on the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.

A statement on the G7 website reads: "Prime Minister Boris Johnson will use the UK’s G7 presidency to unite leading democracies to help the world fight, and then build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, more prosperous future."

While these topics will be discussed, nothing agreed at the G7 summit is legally binding.

  • 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.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant Donald Trump never hosted the 2020 G7 summit. Credit: AP
  • How often is the G7 held?

Leaders meet annually, however, no summit was held in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Donald Trump had been due to host the G7 at Camp David, the country retreat of US presidents, but the pandemic meant many leaders did not feel it was right to travel and did not want to hold the summit virtually.

The Group of Seven meeting was pushed back to September and then until after the US election, but ended up not being held.

  • There's a few new faces this time round

In the two years since the last G7 was held there's been a host of changes.

The 47th summit will be the first for Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga, US President Joe Biden and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

While the EU is not an official member of the group, its leaders attend the summit and it will be a first for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.

It's also likely to be the last summit attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has said she will not be seeking re-election in September.

  • Not to mention special guests

As well as the members of the G7, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited leaders from India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa.

It has been suggested that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison may discuss Facebook and digital content regulation as he did at the 2019 meeting and the G20 summit.

Also in attendance will be South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.