G8 stands for the world's leading eight industrial nations. But in the lead up to the 2007 G8 summit in Germany, some economists are again raising the question of whether the right members are in the G8 club.
The annual G8 heads of state summit was held in Russia in 2006
Just thinking about the current G8 members -- Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, the United States and Canada -- puts renowned economist Jim O'Neill in a bad mood.
"I have no idea why a country like Italy is allowed to continue to be in the club," said O'Neill, who is head of Global Economic Research at investment bank Goldman Sachs.
O'Neill is author of an influential report which argues that Brazil, Russia, India and China -- the so-called BRICs -- could become the four dominant economies by 2050. Italy is noticeably absent in O'Neill's report.
"Italy's contribution to the world economy has been continually shrinking for a while now, but at G8 summits, Italy is still a participatory to the official agreements about how the world functions today," he said.
Lack of binding decisions
Like O'Neill, many others see the G8 as irrelevant and some would even love to see it dismantled immediately. According to its critics, the G8's lack of administrative structure and binding rules mean that although leaders broach issues such as debt relief and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, there are few concrete achievements.
For O'Neill, the G8 members represent the world as it was more than 60 years ago and don't reflect the current situation.
China is predicted to overtake Germany as the world's third largest economy by 2008
"The worst thing is that the wrong participants are sitting at the G8 table," said O'Neill. "It is a somewhat simplistic idea to want to rule the world according to some post-war schematic," he said.
According to him, by the middle of the century, the BRICs are likely to have more economic weight that the current G7 countries (G8 without Russia) put together. The economy of China alone in 2050 is likely to be 20 times bigger than it is today and will have overtaken the USA as the world's biggest, O'Neill predicted.
Changing world economy
Russia was admitted to the Group of Eight in 1997, becoming the first new member since Canada came on board in 1976. Critics like O'Neill say the G8 can't continue to ignore the dramatic changes to the global economy.
After all, it wasn't until the Gleneagles Summit in 2005 that the heads of states agreed to hold a separate set of meetings with ministers from emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, now known as the G8+5.
In 2007, five developing countries attended the G8 environment ministers meeting for the first time
Peter Hajnal, an academic with the G8 Research Group at Canada's Toronto University thinks this was an intelligent decision. The alternative would have been to hold a meeting of the 20 leading heads of states based on the model of the G20 industrial nations forum formed in 1999.
According to Hajnal, such a structure would make it more difficult to achieve real results, however, and isn't being considered as a real possibility.
Even economist O'Neill doesn't want to see an increase in the number of G8 members. He would prefer the introduction of rules regulating who has the right to sit at the table.
"We should learn from soccer, and have a permanent league in which only the current world economic powers are allowed to play," O'Neill said. "You would be able to advance into and dropped from the league."
Should the G8 look to soccer for inspiration?
O'Neill has even thought of an umpire -- the International Monetary Fund, which could use economic data to determine the lucky eight.
Is G8 membership desirable?
This suggestion isn't an option for Hajnal, who pointed out that not all BRIC countries were angling for G8 membership.
China has "continually emphasized that it doesn't want to belong for the moment" because it was "profiting economically" by being a developing country, Hajnal said.
However, according to Hajnal, the G8's very informality could well come in useful in the future by making it easier for the G8 to adapt to changes in the world's power balance."This means there is a lot of flexibility to quickly take on new members," Hajnal said.