by Harry Blutstein
David Cameron came in for some heavy criticism when he attended the Bilderberg group meeting at the luxury Grove hotel in Watford. Famous for their secrecy, Bilderberg meetings have attracted some of the most powerful men and women in the world. In equal measure, they have attracted some of the most virulent conspiracy theorists, convinced that Bilderbergers form the nucleus of a clandestine world government.
In 2006, the Bilderberg Group decided to directly address the question of its secrecy in a press release. Not only did it include a list of those attending, it also explained why its deliberations were secret. “The meeting is private in order to encourage frank and open discussion … [that encourages] mutual understanding”. It also listed the matters to be discussed – European-American relations, Energy, Russia, Iran, the Middle East, Asia, terrorism and immigration. The group has continued this tradition, and the 2013 agenda is on its website.
One item on the agenda — “Politics of the European Union” — piqued the interest of Euro-skeptic, Tory MP, Douglas Carswell: “Given the dreadful state that most European countries are in – and given the appalling public policy failures that landed us in this mess – you would have thought the least our ruling elite could do is discuss these issues in public.”
Why the secrecy and should we be worried? Is the Bilderberg Group the center of a secret New World Order that is pulling the strings? To answer these question we need to know something of its history.
The first meeting of the Bilderberg Group was held at the Hotel De Bilderberg in Oosterbeek (Holland) from May 29 to May 31, 1954, and was prompted by concern among some of the business and political elites in Europe that the rise of anti-American feeling was poisoning the Western alliance.
Its organizers decided that if the meeting was to succeed in venting pent-up animosity, participants needed to be assured that strongly expressed opinions would be kept secret. Until recently, the Bilderberg Group fiercely guarded the privacy of its members. For years, it did not publicize its meetings, issue minutes or media releases. Its first chairman, Prince Bernhard explained in his Memoirs, “The meeting was most encouraging because people accepted the idea that there would be no publicity, and everybody could speak for himself, irrespective of his position, quite frankly – and fight!” From the few accounts we have from those who breached their oath of secrecy, Bilderberg meetings have been characterized by an honest, sometimes brutally direct exchange of views.
The founder and first permanent secretary of the Bilderberg Group, Józef Retinger explained how it operates.
Bilderberg does not make policy. Its aim is to reduce differences of opinion and resolve conflicting trends and to further understanding, if not agreement, by hearing and considering various points of view and trying to find a common approach to major problems. Direct action has therefore never been contemplated, the object being to draw attention of people in responsible positions to Bilderberg’s finds.
As members of the Bilderberg Group developed trust in one another and confidence in the ability of the organizers to guarantee the confidentiality of their deliberations the nature of the meetings changed. There was still a need for the occasional fence-minding but, in time, the agenda addressed more constructive topics, particularly economic issues like market liberalization, with some success. We can see this change from a comment made by George McGhee, from the US Department of State, who claimed that “the Treaty of Rome, which brought the Common Market into being was nurtured at these [Bilderberg] meetings and aided by the main stream of our discussions there”.
Its pro-Europeanism is one reason that Carswell took exception to Cameron’s participation in this year’s Bilderberg meeting. As he explained, “I am absolutely not a conspiracy theorist but it is striking that the grandees invited to this self-selecting little clique all tend to regurgitate the same failed orthodoxies. It doesn’t matter whether it is the same failed orthodoxy of Europeanism or the fallacy that cheap credit and low interest rates can make us rich – they are the same washed-up ideas of the last 20 years. It is a cliché fest.”
While Carswell’s agenda is clear, to really understand the Bilderberg Group it is necessary to understand what it is and how it operates. The starting point for addressing these issues is to identify the members of the elite who attract exclusive invitations to attend its meetings.
From the start, the Bilderberg Group was able to attract the A-list of world leaders. The attendance list consists of permanent members and others who are invited to attend one or more meetings. In the early days, the core of permanent members included Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski. They were joined every year by nonpermanent members such as political leaders like Bill Clinton, Gerld Ford, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel, powerful international bureaucrats like James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank and IMF’s Christine Lagarde. Other Bilderberg alumni are Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, Peter Mandelson and Donald Rumsfeld. The list also includes important media people from outlets such as The Financial Times, Washington Post, The Economist, International Herald-Tribune, Le Figaro and Die Zeit. The picture becomes complete with CEOs from the world’s biggest companies such as Coca-Cola, Google, Fiat, Suez-Tractebel, Royal Dutch Shell, and Deutsche Bank. Of the 120-150 invited participants about a third from government and politics and the rest from the business community. It is this last-mentioned group that have escaped attention, which is unfortunate.
At first glance, the Bilderberg Group is exactly what it purports to be: a meeting of the movers and shakers of the world, in which they are free to discuss the issues of the day, candidly and to explore political and economic issues with their peers. It does not make decisions, but explores ideas and policies in ways that no politician could in public. For those who scream that this lacks transparency, welcome to the real world.
That does not mean that the Bilderberg Group is benign. By networking influential political and business leaders, it has created a “transnational elite club”, which has been copied by other groups, notably the Trilateral Commission, World Economic Forum and TransAtlantic Business Dialogue. Rather than representing evidence of a conspiracy it constitutes a “strategic element within globalizing capitalism”. As political scientist Stephen Gill explains.
These private international relations councils are not shadow governments of plutocrats manipulating international relations. Rather, they are consciousness-raising forums where individuals representing elements of the state and civil society in affiliated countries can come to know and influence each other…. Private councils are part of a much wider international process of elite familiarisation and fraternisation, mutual education and, broadly speaking, networking.
In addition, the Bilderberg Group provides access to a ready-made network that provided mutual support and helps bind the elite to the pursuit of economic globalization. All members are provided with attendance lists, and it is understood “that anybody who had been to a Bilderberg Conference should be able to feel that he can, in a private capacity, call on any former member he has met … This makes possible an expanding continuation of association of people who might not otherwise have met”. In this way Bilderberg has created a powerful alumni community, which lead one member to describe the Bilderberg “like belonging to a fraternity”.
If you don’t believe in globalization, or in the case of Douglas Carswell, European integration, then you would have every reason to attack the Bilderberg Group. However, if you believe that getting a better understanding between political leaders, even if it has to be in private, is likely to reduce international tensions and nurture cooperation, then you would accept the necessity of secrecy. It is naïve to expect politicians to be entirely transparent.
The question that should be asked, but hasn’t been is: why are prominent businesspeople part of such get-togethers? While politicians are legitimate participants in shaping policy, businesspeople represent no one, other than their commercial interests.
So while the 61st meeting of the Bilderberg Group attracts the usual cast of conspiracy nutcases telling us that we should be take up arms against a mythical secret world order, the real issue of unelected businesspeople shaping the global agenda is being ignored.