A sherpa is the personal representative of a head of state or government who prepares an international summit, particularly the annual G8 Summit. Between the G8 summits there are multiple sherpa conferences where possible agreements are laid out. This reduces the amount of time and resources required at the negotiations of the heads of state at the final summit. The name sherpa—without further context—refers to sherpas for the G8 summit but the designation can be spread for different regular conferences where the participation of the respective head of state is required. The sherpa is generally quite influential, although they generally lack the authority to independently make the final decision about any given agreement.
The name is derived from the Sherpa people, a Nepalese ethnic group, who serve as guides and porters in the Himalayas, a reference to the fact that the sherpa clears the way for a head of state at a major summit. The name was originally of informal usage in between the states of the European Union where personal representatives prepare work for the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) meetings. While the position of a chief negotiator can be traced back under varying names to the first days of the European Union process the name has caught on as an official reference just lately on the designation of a high profile group on competition regulation in the European chemistry that names officially a "Sherpa-Subgroup".
- In France, Paul Jean-Ortiz fr is a G8 sherpa. Previous French sherpas include Jacques Attali, Anne Lauvergeon, Jean-Marc de La Sablière, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, Jean-David Levitte; Pascal Lamy was a sherpa on the European Commission (representing Jacques Delors).
- In Germany, the canonic name of Chefunterhändler (chief negotiator) is a common second title to another high profile position. The Bernd Pfaffenbach did hold this position since 2004 being also secretary of state in the Ministry of Economics (since 2005). The title was held before by Horst Köhler (former President of Germany) and Hans Tietmeyer (became later the President of the Deutsche Bundesbank). Since December 2009 the position of G8-Sherpa is held by Jens Weidmann who has been sherpa to the G20 summits before.
- In Italy, Giampiero Massolo is Sherpa for the G8 since 1 April 2008
During the preliminary preparatory process which takes place in advance of a G8 summit, the leader of a G8 host nation conventionally invites representatives from the other G8 participants to send representatives known as "sherpas" to develop the agenda topics and other matters. They often produce communiques which show the current state of negotiations.
Apart from conferences of the sherpas of the head of state there are additional conferences held in specific domains that are routinely attended by other state secretaries in the government—most of the G8 countries have national sherpa teams in the field of foreign affairs (Foreign Affairs Sous-Sherpa) and finance (Finance Sous-Sherpa).
- European Union, L 156/34, 16. June 2007, Articles 4, 5 and 6)
- L 156/34 (2007/418/EC): "setting up the High Level Group on the Competitiveness of the Chemicals Industry in the European Union", Commission Decision of 14 June 2007, Official Journal of the European Union of 16 June 2007
- also earlier in L 36/43, 23. December 2005, Articles 3 and 4.
- L 36/43 (2006/77/EC) "setting up a High Level Group on Competitiveness, Energy and the Environment", Commission Decision of 23 December 2005, Official Journal of the European Union of 8 February 2006
- Spiegel Online: "Merkel beruft neuen Super-Sherpa"
- Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada, 18 March 2010; excerpt, "I think many people are probably not aware that the relatively brief leaders’ summits are the culmination of months of work at various levels of our governments to arrive at the final declarations and next steps forward. You, as the so-called ‘sherpas’ of your countries, play a leading role in this process."
"The G8 mainly operates at the level of Heads of State and Government, who meet once a year on the occasion of the G8 Summit. The Summit is the conclusion of a process that involves coordination between the Ministry of the Economy and Finance (MEF), the Prime Minister's Office, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE). The coordination between the ministries is left up to the Sherpa (the Prime Minister's personal representative) who, in turn, has two representatives: the Foreign Affairs Sous-Sherpa with regard to MAE related matters and the Financial Sous-Sherpa with regard to MEF responsibilities. // The Finance Ministers meet three times each year in the G7 format, together with the Central Banks’ Governors. Preliminary meetings at the level of Ministers’ Deputies and Deputies' Deputies are convened more frequently. A fourth meeting, known as the Pre-Summit, as it precedes and prepares the Summit of the Heads of State and Government, is held in the G8 format (thus including Russia), but without the participation of the Central Banks’ Governors. // The Communiqués issued at the conclusion of the Finance Ministers’ meetings and the Summits are political documents setting out the decisions made in relation to the measures to be adopted"— Website for the G7 Finance Minister Meetings during Itialian 2009 Presidency
- Sherpa's Blog- Official site on the pre-summits leading up to the G8 summit of 2010 in Canada.