This week seven of the most powerful leaders in international politics are meeting in the south of England. The G7 members will discuss the pandemic, economy, trade, and the environment. You may have heard of the G7 before, but how much do you really know about the organisation? What does the G7 do? Who are the members? Why is the meeting in the UK?

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Vocabulary List

Summit (n) – an important formal meeting between leaders of governments from two or more countries

World leaders will meet next week for their annual economic summit

Abbreviated (adj) – (of a word or phrase) made shorter by using only the first letters of each word

The bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich is more commonly referred to by its abbreviated name, BLT 

To coordinate (v) – to make various, separate things work together

The government and charities will need to coordinate their efforts to help the homeless 

Permanent (adj) – lasting for a long time or forever

She is looking for a permanent place to stay

Presidency (n) – the job of being president, or the period when someone is a president

She won the presidency by a wide margin

Prominent (adj) – very well known and important

He is a prominent writer

To ensure (v) – to make something certain to happen

The airline is taking steps to ensure safety on tis aircraft 

Behind closed doors (idiom) – hidden or kept secret from the public, or without an audience or crowd watching

The deal was negotiated behind closed doors

Breakthrough (n) – an important event that helps to improve a situation or provide an answer to a problem

Scientists are hoping for a breakthrough in the search for a cure for cancer

Expansion (n) – an increase in size, number, or importance

Expansion into new areas of research might be possible 

This week, in a seaside resort in the very south of England, seven of the most powerful politicians in the world are meeting for the annual G7 summit. Influential leaders including US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend and discuss important issues concerning international politics, economics and society. You may have heard of the G7 before, but how much do you really know about it? Why does it exist? Who are the members? What does the future hold for the organisation? 

The Group of Seven, usually abbreviated as the G7, is an international organisation including seven of the largest advanced economies in the world. The organisation began in the early 1970s after a gathering of finance ministers from the US, West Germany, France, and the UK. At that time, there was an energy crisis, and it was thought that coordinating policy and making decisions together would make sense. At the moment the members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States. These countries contain 40% of the entire world’s GDP and 10% of the population. Until 2014, it was actually known as the G8 as Russia was also involved in the annual meetings. However, after Russia was involved in conflict in Ukraine and “took over” Crimea they were removed from the meetings. Other powerful countries are often invited as guests. This year the European Union, India, South Korea, South Africa and Australia will attend! 

One country you have probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned is China. China is one of the most influential countries in the world, has the world’s largest population, and has a massive economy. So… why has it never been a member of the G7? China is actually not seen as an advanced economy in the same way the other permanent countries are. This is because China has a low level of wealth per person. 

The seven members of the G7 take turns to hold the presidency of the organisation for one year and host the annual meeting. The UK is in charge of the 2021 meeting and is hosting it in a hotel in the English county of Cornwall. Cornwall is an important area for green technology and environmental science so has been seen as the perfect location to host this year’s conference. For instance, the UK’s first geothermal power plant is based there! It is also hoped that by hosting the conference there, it will help the local economy, especially the hospitality and tourism industries, which have been hit hardest by the pandemic. However, with seven of the most important people in the world staying in a small seaside village, life for the residents of local towns will change dramatically for a few days. Roads will be closed, there will be a significant security presence, and people may have to prove their identities and addresses to enter their homes!    

What does the G7 actually do? Quite a lot, apparently! Although this annual meeting of leaders is the highest profile event, ministers and officials from the different countries meet throughout the year to make agreements and react to international events. For example, finance leaders have met in London this year to negotiate and discuss taxation on major technology companies as well as action on climate change. The main event is of course the annual summit where the leaders of the seven members meet and discuss the major issues facing their countries. The G7 began as an economic meeting, but as economy is so closely linked to military and politics, the meeting has naturally become a place to try to solve prominent international crises and disputes. In the last 10 years, for instance, they have discussed the Syrian crisis, North Korea’s nuclear weapons, environmental problems, Brexit, and ISIS.

The main topic of the current summit is, obviously, Covid and the pandemic. In fact, last year’s conference was cancelled due to coronavirus (the first time a summit had ever been cancelled!). Leaders will discuss how to recover from the pandemic and how to build “a stronger global health system that can protect us all from future pandemics”. Vaccines will also be an important point of discussion with American and British companies producing most of the vaccines currently available and fully tested. Leaders will talk about how to ensure all countries have access to vaccine supplies and how economies will start to grow again in the coming years. They will also discuss trade and climate change. Climate change is particularly important to the UK, which has been especially proactive in developing and producing policies focused on climate change and global warming. Most of the discussions are in secret  and behind closed doors, but at the end of the summit the host country (so this year the UK) will produce a document which outlines everything agreed by the leaders.

The G7 also faces regular criticism from countries not invited to join and from the public. Almost every summit since 2000 has faced large scale protests; often over conspiracy theories or the overly powerful nature of the event. This year is no exception. For example, the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion says it expects 1,000 people at its protests in Cornwall.

Does the G7 really matter? While the leaders’ discussions and meetings are probably more about photo opportunities than actual policy discussion, real work does happen at these summits. Foreign policy experts, diplomats, economic and finance officials, and government ministers hold official negotiations and make significant decisions. And since the 1990s expanded groups like the G20 and G8+5, as well as invited organisations like the World Bank and African Union, have made the meetings even more productive. Each participating nation and organization has an opportunity to talk with the most influential countries in the world at the same time in the same place. This can lead to real breakthroughs in a relatively short period of time. 

Final Thought

On this episode of Thinking in English, I have introduced and discussed some of the issues surrounding the G7. As a meeting of some of the most powerful countries and organisations in the world, the summit and discussions can have significant real world consequences. Inevitably, this has led to criticisms and protests by those not invited and the general public. One of the biggest criticisms is that it does not include the two biggest countries in the world: China and India. Over the next 50 years, these two countries will only grow in international influence and economic power. Whereas in the past the centre of world politics and economics was in western Europe, Asia is increasingly taking over that role. What does the future hold for the organisation? Expansion is one possibility. But at the same time, expanding would mean letting countries join which are likely to disagree with other members and make it more difficult to agree on anything. Instead, I think it is likely we will see rival organizations and meetings, potentially led by China and other countries!  

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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