World leaders are set to gather in the French resort of Deauville for a summit of the G8 bloc of wealthy nations.
A shift in global influence to emerging powers such as India and China who are not in the G8 has led to the group's relevance being questioned.
But analysts say recent events such as uprisings in the Arab world and Japan's nuclear crisis have given the group a new sense of purpose.
Also on the agenda is how little or how much the internet should be regulated.
The global economy and climate change are also to be discussed.
US President Barack Obama is travelling to the meeting after completing a state visit to the UK. He will later continue to Poland.
'Time for leadership'
Leaders from Tunisia and Egypt and the head of the Arab League will be at Deauville, on the Normandy coast, for talks on a massive aid plan to help their transition to democracy.
The long-standing presidents of Tunisia and Egypt were overthrown earlier this year in popular uprisings.
The current stalemate in Libya is also expected to be one of the main talking points of the two-day summit.
The crisis there may throw up divisions within the G8, with Russia openly critical of the Nato operation against the forces of Col Muammar Gaddafi.
A Nato-led coalition is operating under a UN mandate to protect civilians as government forces battle rebels.
Speaking in London before heading to France, US President Barack Obama rejected arguments that the rise of superpowers like China and India meant the end for American and European influence in the world.
"Perhaps, the argument goes, these nations represent the future, and the time for our leadership has passed. That argument is wrong. The time for our leadership is now," he said.
"It was the United States, the United Kingdom, and our democratic allies that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge and individuals could thrive."
With the winding down of operations in Iraq, progress in Afghanistan and having dealt "al-Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader Osama Bin Laden", President Obama told his London hosts it was time to enter a "new chapter in our shared history" with new challenges.
"It was the United States, the United Kingdom, and our democratic allies that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge and individuals could thrive.
"And even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership, our alliance will remain indispensable to the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just."
But he added that leadership had to "change with the times" and the days were gone when an American president and UK prime minister could "sit in a room and solve the world's problems over a glass of brandy".
The G8 is composed of the US, Russia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.
A group of internet bosses, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google boss Eric Schmidt, is heading to the summit to urge governments not to over-regulate the internet.