The G-8 is a group made up of the top political leaders of eight of the world's wealthiest countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The G-8 meets annually, and the location rotates through the member countries.
The group began as the G-6, in 1975. The first summit was in France, and also attending were representatives from Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S., and West Germany. Canada joined the group, making it the G-7, in 1976. Russia became the eighth member in 1997.
The European Union, originally represented as the European Commission, is also part of the group, with the EU president attending as an equal to the heads of state. The EU president does not participate in political discussions but attends other meetings.
The G-8 is more a forum than a permanent body. It does not have a permanent secretariat, and the heads of states do not hold any kind of office. The head of the government of the host nation is nominally the president of the group for a year, beginning on the 1st day of January following the last G-8 meeting, and is in charge of making arrangements for that year's forum, including ministerial-level meetings leading up to the summit.
The Group of Six, as it was known in the mid-1970s, grew out of meetings that took place between high-ranking members of Western governments in response to the oil crisis of 1973. Continued economic and political unrest have been topics at meetings of the group ever since.
An offshoot group, the G8+5, formed in 2005. Finance and energy ministers from all eight G-8 member countries attend separate meetings with their counterparts in five other "outreach countries": Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa.
Other topics of focus for what is now the G-8 have included global food supply, Third Word debt, worldwide health care, alternative energy policies, and the threat of terrorism. G-8 leaders commonly make agreements at the summit meetings, but none of those agreements is binding.
In recent years, the G-8 summit has become a target for protesters. As a result, G-8 meetings have taken place in remote locations within the host countries.