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Europe

From Bit Player to Global Heavyweight

Leaders of the world's richest nations will meet off Georgia's coast from June 8-10. The G-8 summit has moved from being an intimate fireside chat to a weighty meeting with a broad economic as well as political agenda.

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Rich and influential.

The first world economic summit was founded in 1975 by the then French President Giscard d' Estaing and the former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

The six leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Great Britain and the United States met for a fireside chat at the Rambouillet castle near the French capital of Paris to discuss questions of international economics policies in a relaxed intimate atmosphere.

From G-6 to G-8

A year later at the Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico summit, Canada was accepted into the illustrious circle leading to the coining of the word 'G-7.'

In 1977 the president of the European Commission was invited to participate in the annual event, a move that resulted in a broadening of the range of topics to include questions of foreign policy.

In 1998 Russia, which had unofficially been a part of the G-7 talks since 1994, was officially accepted into the fold at the Birmingham summit as one of the most politically-important countries. The move completed the G-8 or Group of Eight circle as it is known today.

However on financial and currency matters, it was the G-7 that continued to hold talks because Russia had still to take on a role comparable to the G-7's when it came to these issues on the world stage.

The G8's agenda has also broadened significantly throughout its history. As a result, the G8 member countries now have separate meetings throughout the year for finance, foreign and labor ministers.

Weighing in on international issues

Meanwhile the regular meetings of the eight world leaders have turned into a massive media spectacle, often accompanied by protests from anti-globalization activists and opponents of neo-liberal capitalism.

The protests reached a climax in July 2001 in Genoa, Italy, when 23-year-old student and protestor Carlo Guiliani was brutally beaten and died in clashes between the demonstrators and the police.

Doubt has often been cast on the political significance of the G-8 talks and its effectiveness in addressing issues of international concerns.

However summit participants vehemently defend themselves against the charge.

At the opening address of the G-8 summit in Evian, France last year, French President Chirac said the meet should be based on four principles: solidarity, responsibility, security and democracy. Referring to 'responsibility', Chirac recommended that "the G-8 states should formulate principles for a responsible market policy oriented towards permanent development, and which is accompanied by concrete actions to, for instance, fight corruption or to use research and innovation to aid the environment."

Heavyweight status

The German government has also long ceased to describe the G-8 meets as a mere relaxed fireside chat.

"The big advantage of the G-8 cooperation is that it links a high degree of flexibility with the necessary economic and political power needed to push through its decisions. The decisions exude a great political influence, which the individual states cannot evade," according to the German Economics and Finance Ministry.

The economic and political muscle of the G-8 is also visible in numbers: they earn more than two- thirds of the gross world product, they're responsible for almost half of global trade, they account for over three- fourths of worldwide development aid and are the biggest paymasters in international organizations such as the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank.

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