The 64th Bilderberg Meeting Deals with a Turbulent World

By Will Banyan, Copyright © 10 June 2016

After a remarkable delay, the Bilderberg Steering Committee finally issued its standard pre-meeting press release and list of participants, on 6 June, just days before the start of the 64th Bilderberg Meeting, now underway at the luxury Grand Hotel Taschenbergpalais in Dresden, Germany. The press release was also notable for its rather soothing language about the private nature of the conference enabling its participants to “take time to listen, reflect and gather insights.” In an attempt at media outreach, Bilderberg’s current chairman, Henri de Castries agreed to an interview with German Press Agency just about Bilderberg. His language was also reassuring as he took issue with the “myth of Bilderberg.” Though admitting many of its participants were powerful people with “great responsibility”, de Castries attributed to the Bilderberg Group the noble aim of trying “understand our world” by facilitating “conversations between these people.”  Bilderberg’s nameless official spokesperson also told The Independent (Jun. 08, 2016) Bilderberg functioned more as a “summer school of influentials”; it was “a place to gain insights and gather information.”

Not everyone has been placated by these charming obfuscations. To Charlie Skelton, for instance, the Guardian’s Bilderberg correspondent, the private conference is obviously a “corporate lobbying event”, where the “financial, industrial and high-tech establishment” retained enough power to have “ministers and European commissioners come running” (Guardian, Jun. 07, 2016). For corporate representatives it was all about “getting a competitive edge”, to lobby the politicians and officials they now had access to; while for the people being lobbied it was “a chance to line up future employment” (Guardian, Jun. 08, 2016). Paul Joseph Watson, a reporter for Alex Jones’ Infowars, described Bilderberg as a “powerful lobby group” and a meeting of the “most powerful people on the planet.” According to Alex Newman, from the John Birch Society, Bilderberg is “essentially a secret meeting of Big Business and Big Government” (The New American, Jun. 09, 2016).

Looking closely at the two lists which accompany the brief but uninformative press statement, we can see how Bilderberg continues to function as its founder Joseph Retinger intended. Not as a front for corporate lobbying or a passive learning opportunity for the rich, powerful and influential, but as a vehicle for consensus-building within the trans-Atlantic elite with the ultimate objective of influencing policy, both domestic and foreign. The two lists suggests this vision remains intact; yet this year’s conference also reveals that part of the model has broken down with the third no-show in the past four conferences by members of the Obama Administration. Without senior US officials there to explain and discuss administration policy, or White House views on the 2016 presidential election in Bilderberg’s high-powered but confidential setting, Bilderberg’s aim of influencing policy-making in the US and Europe appears to be compromised.

A Tale of Two Lists

The 2016 topic list (see Figure 1) repeats last year’s trick of providing a laundry list of broad topics, rather than a sense of the actual themes being explored. The result is of course frustratingly vague, leaving outside observers with no option but to use guess work to fill in the gaps. Infowars’ Watson, for example, bravely claimed that Bilderberg would actually be discussing “how to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president, the possibility of mass riots as a result of wealth inequality, the migrant crisis, as well as the United Kingdom’s vote on leaving the European Union” (Infowars, Jun. 07, 2016).

Figure 1:  - ‘Key Topics for Discussion’- Bilderberg Meeting 2016 Source: http://www.bilderbergmeetings.org/press-release.html

Figure 1:  – ‘Key Topics for Discussion’- Bilderberg Meeting 2016
Source: http://www.bilderbergmeetings.org/press-release.html

Topics 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 10 are so vague they tell us next to nothing, but the other topics, 3, 6, 8 and particularly 9 are less obscure. In fact the last one, “Precariat and middle class” is a dead giveaway because the term “precariat” is unique, having been coined by Professor Guy Standing from the University of London, who also happens to be on the participant list. Otherwise, it is only by looking at the participant list, particularly those attending for the first time (of whom there are 64), can we get some sense of what they might be talking about under each of these topic headings.

For example, under Topic 3 “Europe: migration, growth, reform, vision, unity”, we can anticipate than any number of the participants might opine on the issue of Brexit and migration. To achieve this, the first-time participants and returning participants include a number of well-connected academic and quasi-academic voices who can opine on these matters. On the highly contentious issue of migration, for instance, the Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam Kajsa Ollongren, and Belgian politician Yasmine Kherbache can all be counted to put forward a positive view of Middle Eastern migration into the EU.

Similarly the economic consequences of Brexit and Europe’s ongoing debt problems will also be well-supported by the current roster. Harvard and Stanford University Professor Niall Ferguson, the author of the recent biography of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (now participating in his 43rd Bilderberg meeting), for example, might seem well-placed as a financial historian and professional polemicist to the plutocracy to present on this issue (though the value of his increasingly glib insights is questionable).

We might also expect similar contributions from the Financial Times’ Chief Economics Commentator and long-time Bilderberg participant Martin Wolf, and from first-time participants Hans-Werner Sinn, a Professor of Economics and Finance from the University of Munich and Beatrice Weider di Mauro, a Professor of Economics from the University of Mainz. But Sinn and di Mauro are no ordinary academic economists, slaving away in their respective ivory towers. Besides being lauded as an expert on debt, di Mauro is also a member of the board of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche and of Swiss bank UBS AG; and she was also a former member of the German Council of Economic Experts which advises the German Government and Parliament on economic issues. Professor Sinn is also well-connected, and revered even as one of the most influential economists in Germany, having served on the Advisory Council of the German Ministry of Economics since 1989. But such a discussion is unlikely to take place without significant contributions from the Ministers of Finance from Sweden, Ireland and Germany, and the representatives from the European Central Bank, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Lazard Frères & Co., the Oesterreichische Kontrollbank AG, and other financial institutions represented in Dresden.

The presence, from Europe, of the Vice President of the European Commission, two European prime ministers, and eight European ministers, will certainly be sufficient to give any discussion about Brexit some weight. Though the complete absence of any senior UK politicians from either side of the debate – Helen Goodman MP is no longer in the shadow ministry, and John Kerr, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, is an Independent member of the House of Lords, and both oppose Brexit (Kerr most recently in the Financial Times on the eve of Bilderberg and Goodman on Twitter) – suggests that for Bilderberg the debate has moved onto how to manage the fallout from the referendum due on June 23rd.

In the case of topic 6, “US political landscape, economy: growth debt, reform”, a strong exchange of opinions is likely on the election, especially between Trump’s lone Bilderberg supporter, billionaire Paypal founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel (and Trump delegate in California) and one of Trump’s more vocal critics, Senator Lindsey Graham (who recently accused Trump of “xenophobic race-baiting” and predicted he would be a “terrible commander in chief”). Also likely to contribute pearls of wisdom on Hillary Clinton’s chances will be the well-connected Democrat operative James A. Johnson and long-time Bilderberger and close friend of the Clintons, Vernon Jordan. Kissinger, who recently met with Trump under contested circumstances – Trump claimed Kissinger had come to support his approach, while Kissinger disputed this, claiming he “did not generally agree with [Trump’s] solutions” (Time, May 27, 2016) – might also have something to offer.

Indeed various assumptions can be made about who might be scheduled to speak quite simply by matching topics to new participants, many of whom are just brought in as panellists for specific topics. Thus on topic 8 “Geo-politics of energy and commodity prices”, the CEOs, senior manager sand board members of Royal Dutch Shell, Galp Energia, British Petroleum, Scottish Power and other energy companies, can be anticipated to contribute.

In the case of topic 10, “Technological innovation” the most likely panellists would be first-time participants: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield; Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory; and Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology (who is crediting with developing a technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 that could theoretically enable a scientist to “alter any gene”).

As for Russia, Marta Dassù Senior Director on European Affairs at the Aspen Institute, and who has argued that Russia is supporting Brexit to weaken the European Union, is a likely speaker. Also likely to contribute is now second-time participant, Washington Post columnist and Director of the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute, Anne Applebaum, and her husband, first-time participant and former Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski, who was “for years…a leading critical voice on Russia” (DW Sep. 14, 2015). Now at Harvard, Sikorski has not abandoned his hard-line.

Given that this year’s conference is being partly sponsored by Airbus and Deutsche Bank, and that nearly half the participants are CEOs, Chairmen or other senior executives from a range of major corporations, it is not difficult to dismiss Bilderberg an exercise in corporate lobbying. But while the corporate chieftans might be keen on using the opportunity of three days of access to various politicians to push their sectional interests, Bilderberg is also designed to use them. From the outset, Bilderberg was conceived as a mechanism for fostering transatlantic harmony by targeting those people with “considerable influence” in their respective countries. That always included corporate leaders, particularly those in sectors whose economic leverage translated into political influence. Essentially, Bilderberg’s conferencing process enables it to exert political influence in three ways:

  1. The selection of topics, speakers and participants is designed to maximise the potential to influence policy debates. The Steering Committee choses topics they think are important, speakers they believe can be effective, and participants who are believed to be best placed to promote these ideas further in the public domain.
  2. Bilderberg’s debates and discussions can also serve as a forum for informal or “track one and a half” diplomacy where both government representatives and other non-government parties can deliberate on an issue out of the public eye.
  3. It provides an opportunity for so-called “corridor talk”, including off-the-record discussions between policy-makers, technocrats, academics and business leaders, as well as opportunities for corporate lobbying and, as has been reported in Dresden, for aspiring politicians and others to use their Bilderberg connections to lobby for jobs in other institutions.

The composition of both the participant list and the discussion topics suggests that this model of Bilderberg as a venue for influence, rather than merely an excuse for lobbying, remains intact. There is however a persistent problem which threatens to undermine its effectiveness.

Persistent Truancy at the “Summer School for Influentials”

Another feature of the participant list worth noting is the representatives of various arms of government, whether supranational, national, regional and local; and monarchs, politicians and bureaucrats. There were 28 in this group comprising: the King of the Netherlands; a member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank; the Vice President of the European Commission; the head of the International Monetary Fund; two prime ministers and one deputy-prime minister; nine ministers; Minister-President of the Free State of Saxony; the mayors of Rotterdam and Le Havre, and the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam; eight parliamentarians, including the President of the Swiss National Council, a lone US Senator and John Kerr, who in addition to being Deputy Chairman of Scottish Power, is also a member of Britain’s House of Lords; and Permanent Secretary of the Danish Ministry of Defence. Some of this line-up was briefly noted on Twitter by Charlie Skelton:

Of course in terms of overall representation at Bilderberg from representatives of government and/or supranational institutions, whether hereditary, elected or appointed, the total numbers have only fluctuated very slightly since 2004. As shown in the chart below (see Figure 2) there have been approximately 25 to 30 such participants each year:

Figure 2: Total Official Participation at Bilderberg Meetings, 2004-2016 Sources: Bilderberg Participant Lists, 2004-2016

Figure 2: Total Official Participation at Bilderberg Meetings, 2004-2016
Sources: Bilderberg Participant Lists, 2004-2016

But one key statistic that people should be looking at, but are not talking about, is that for the third time in the past four years, there are no representatives from the US Government present at Bilderberg this year. Despite a significant 27-strong US delegation comprised of billionaires, influential journalists, academics, political fixers, a lone Senator, and a collection of former officials, there were no serving government officials. Not one. After dispatching a record number of senior officials in 2010, the Obama Administration’s Bilderberg participation has now trailed off quite dramatically (see Figure 3). No doubt the Bilderberg Steering Committee invited many of the principals at the National Security Council, and the State, Defense, Trade and Commerce Departments, but it was clearly to no avail.

Figure 3: Trends in Bilderberg participation by Senior US Government Officials

Figure 3: Trends in Bilderberg participation by Senior US Government Officials

Back in 2014 I noted that for the second year-running the Obama Administration had failed to send any of its senior officials to Bilderberg. I speculated on a number of possible reasons why, including clashing schedules, a fear of leaks, or a jaded Obama having little interest in having his officials patronising the private conferences of the power-elite. Another possibility, raised by a commenter on my article, was what we could call the “Drudge Effect”, the reluctance to encourage bad publicity by sending key officials to an event steeped in as much conspiracy lore as Bilderberg. This also seems plausible, although in 2015 the trend was broken when Obama’s Special Presidential Envoy General John Allen attended last year’s Bilderberg meeting in Telfs-Buchen in Austria. Another reason could be official US scepticism these meetings are worth the effort, although a number of former officials from the Obama years, such as former CIA Director David Petreaus, former NATO Commander Philip Breedlove and former National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon have thought Bilderberg worth their time when out of office. As yet no clear reason has emerged, and puzzlingly the journalists of the alternative media have consistently failed to pursue this issue when speaking to Bilderberg participants, let alone even acknowledge it.

But whatever the reason, it is hard believe the Bilderberg Steering Committee would be pleased with this sudden drop-off in participation by senior US officials. Helping to maintain the transatlantic relationship is the core of the Bilderberg Group’s existence. While speaking through unofficial channels is part-and-parcel of Bilderberg, the legitimacy of its exercise and the presumed effectiveness of its shaping and influencing, also rests on its ability to include serving and preferably senior government officials in its meetings. The complete absence of senior US officials in 2013, 2014 and now 2016, would be a real blow to that objective and may even been causing some Bilderberg figures some angst about its credibility.

This is curious issue, one that should not be ignored, yet during each of those years Skelton, Infowars, American Free Press, other alternative outlets and the mainstream media have made no mention of it. Come on Charlie Skelton, the next time you see a member of the Bilderberg Steering Committee having a stroll outside the fence line in Dresden, why don’t you ask how the Committee feels about the lack of US officials?

What’s the deal with the missing Americans?

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