Group of Eight (G8) leaders were converging on Deauville on Thursday for a summit that was to look at ways of supporting emerging democracies in the Arab world, developing global norms on nuclear safety and take stock of the world economy, DPA reported.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were the first to arrive, late on Wednesday, in the Normandy seaside resort, a favourite among Parisians.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and the meeting's host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, were next scheduled to reach the venue of the summit, a conference centre on the seafront.
The G8 offers heads of state and government of most of the world's leading economies an annual opportunity to discuss some of the big events shaping the world.
Topping the agenda in northern France was how best to assist the fledging democracies of Egypt and Tunisia and help promote the so-called "Arab Spring" elsewhere in the region. Syria was expected to come under criticism for its treatment of protesters, while the progress of the NATO-led campaign in Libya was also to be reviewed.
The G8 was expected to promise billions of dollars in aid and incentives to Tunisia and Egypt's interim leaders, who are among the 18 heads of state and government invited to Deauville.
Speaking to the German parliament early on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a "historic European responsibility" to support those people demanding democratic change in neighbouring regions.
Nuclear safety has also come to the fore in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with several countries pushing for tougher standards.
"The security of using nuclear energy cannot be safeguarded with national decisions alone," Merkel said. "We need a test of security standards on the international level too."
Leaders were also expected to discuss the global economy, particularly the crises facing eurozone members Greece, Portugal and Ireland, and the stalled Doha round of free-trade talks.
Sarkozy's controversial idea about the need to have more rules for the internet was also expected to feature.
However, much of the talks on the sidelines was expected to be devoted to Christine Lagarde's bid to become the next head of the International Monetary Fund.
The French finance minister announced her candidacy in Paris on Wednesday.
A total of 12,250 security force members have been deployed around Deauville, despite the conspicuous absence of traditional anti-G8 protests.