The G8, according to the University of Toronto web site, originated in 1975, as "the heads of state or government of the major industrial democracies have been meeting annually to deal with the major economic and political issues facing their domestic societies and the international community as a whole.
"The six countries at the first summit, held at Rambouillet, France in November 1975, were France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan and Italy. They were joined by Canada at the San Juan Summit of 1976 in Puerto Rico, and by the European Community at the London Summit of 1977.
"From then on, membership in the G7 was fixed, although 15 developing countries' leaders met with the G7 leaders on the eve of the 1989 Paris Summit, and the USSR and then Russia participated in a post-summit dialogue with the G7 since 1991.
"Starting with the 1994 Naples Summit, the G7 met with Russia at each summit (referred to as the P8 or Political 8). The Denver Summit of the Eight was a milestone, marking full Russian participation in all but financial and certain economic discussions; and the 1998 Birmingham Summit saw full Russian participation, giving birth to the G8 (although the G7 continued to function along side the formal summits). At the Kananaskis Summit in Canada in 2002, it was announced that Russia would host the G8 Summit in 2006, thus completing its process of becoming a full member."
"The G7/8 Summit has consistently dealt with macroeconomic management, international trade, and relations with developing countries. Questions of East-West economic relations, energy, and terrorism have also been of recurrent concern. From this initial foundation the summit agenda has broadened considerably to include microeconomic issues such as employment and the information highway, transnational issues such as the environment, crime and drugs, and a host of political-security issues ranging from human rights through regional security to arms control.
"The responsibility of host rotates throughout the summit cycle at the end of the calendar year, as follows: France, United States, United Kingdom, Russia (as of 2006), Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. Throughout the year, the leaders' personal representatives - known as sherpas - meet regularly to discuss the agenda and monitor progress.
"In addition, the G7/8 has developed a network of supporting ministerial meetings, which allow ministers to meet regularly throughout the year in order to continue the work set out at each summit; these include the meetings of the finance ministers, foreign ministers and environment ministers, among others. G7/8 ministers and officials also meet on an ad hoc basis to deal with pressing issues, such a terrorism, energy, and development; from time to time the leaders also create task forces or working groups to focus intensively on certain issues of concern, such as a drug-related money laundering, nuclear safety, and transnational organized crime."