[Paleopsych] BBC: Inside the secretive Bilderberg Group

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Inside the secretive Bilderberg Group
2005/09/29 07:42:52 GMT

    How much influence do private networks of the rich and powerful have
    on government policies and international relations? One group, the
    Bilderberg, has often attracted speculation that it forms a shadowy
    global government. As part of the BBC's Who Runs Your World? series,
    Bill Hayton tries to find out more.

    The chairman of the secretive - he prefers the word private -
    Bilderberg Group is 73-year-old Viscount Etienne Davignon, corporate
    director and former European Commissioner.

    In his office, on a private floor above the Brussels office of the
    Suez conglomerate lined with political cartoons of himself, he told me
    what he thought of allegations that Bilderberg is a global conspiracy
    secretly ruling the world.

    "It is unavoidable and it doesn't matter," he says. "There will always
    be people who believe in conspiracies but things happen in a much more
    incoherent fashion."

    Lack of publicity

    In an extremely rare interview, he played down the importance of
    Bilderberg in setting the international agenda. "What can come out of
    our meetings is that it is wrong not to try to deal with a problem.
    But a real consensus, an action plan containing points 1, 2 and 3? The
    answer is no. People are much too sensible to believe they can do

    There need to be places where these people can think about the main
    challenges ahead, co-ordinate where policies should be going, and find
    out where there could be a consensus
    Professor Kees van der Pijl

    Every year since 1954, a small network of rich and powerful people
    have held a discussion meeting about the state of the trans-Atlantic
    alliance and the problems facing Europe and the US.

    Organised by a steering committee of two people from each of about 18
    countries, the Bilderberg Group (named after the Dutch hotel in which
    it held its first meeting) brings together about 120 leading business
    people and politicians.

    At this year's meeting in Germany, the audience included the heads of
    the World Bank and European Central Bank, Chairmen or Chief Executives
    from Nokia, BP, Unilever, DaimlerChrysler and Pepsi - among other
    multi-national corporations, editors from five major newspapers,
    members of parliament, ministers, European commissioners, the crown
    prince of Belgium and the queen of the Netherlands.

    "I don't think (we are) a global ruling class because I don't think a
    global ruling class exists. I simply think it's people who have
    influence interested to speak to other people who have influence,"
    Viscount Davignon says.

    "Bilderberg does not try to reach conclusions - it does not try to say
    'what we should do'. Everyone goes away with their own feeling and
    that allows the debate to be completely open, quite frank - and to see
    what the differences are.

    "Business influences society and politics influences society - that's
    purely common sense. It's not that business contests the right of
    democratically-elected leaders to lead".

    For Bilderberg's critics the fact that there is almost no publicity
    about the annual meetings is proof that they are up to no good. Jim
    Tucker, editor of a right-wing newspaper, the American Free Press for
    example, alleges they organise wars and elect and depose political
    leaders. He describes the group as simply 'evil'. So where does the
    truth lie?

    Professor Kees van der Pijl of Sussex University in Britain says such
    private networks of corporate and political leaders play an informal
    but crucial role in the modern world.

    "There need to be places where these people can think about the main
    challenges ahead, co-ordinate where policies should be going, and find
    out where there could be a consensus."

    'Common sense'

    Will Hutton, an economic analyst and former newspaper editor who
    attended a Bilderberg meeting in 1997, says people take part in these
    networks in order to influence the way the world works, to create what
    he calls "the international common sense" about policy.

    Business influences society and politics influences society - that's
    purely common sense

    "On every issue that might influence your business you will hear at
    first-hand the people who are actually making those decisions and you
    will play a part in helping them to make those decisions and
    formulating the common sense," he says.

    And that "common sense" is one which supports the interests of
    Bilderberg's main participants - in particular free trade. Viscount
    Davignon says that at the annual meetings, "automatically around the
    table you have internationalists" - people who support the work of the
    World Trade Organisation, trans-Atlantic co-operation and European

    Bilderberg meetings often feature future political leaders shortly
    before they become household names. Bill Clinton went in 1991 while
    still governor of Arkansas, Tony Blair was there two years later while
    still an opposition MP. All the recent presidents of the European
    Commission attended Bilderberg meetings before they were appointed.

    'Secret Government'

    This has led to accusations that the group pushes its favoured
    politicians into high office. But Viscount Davignon says his steering
    committee are simply excellent talent spotters. The steering committee
    "does its best assessment of who are the bright new boys or girls in
    the beginning phase of their career who would like to get known."

    "It's not a total accident, but it's not a forecast and if they go
    places it's not because of Bilderberg, it's because of themselves,"
    Viscount Davignon says.

    But its critics say Bilderberg's selection process gives an extra
    boost to aspiring politicians whose views are friendly to big
    business. None of this, however, is easy to prove - or disprove.

    Observers like Will Hutton argue that such private networks have both
    good and bad sides. They are unaccountable to voters but, at the same
    time, they do keep the international system functioning. And there are
    limits to their power - a point which Bilderberg chairman was keen to
    stress, "When people say this is a secret government of the world I
    say that if we were a secret government of the world we should be
    bloody ashamed of ourselves."

    Informal and private networks like Bilderberg have helped to oil the
    wheels of global politics and globalisation for the past half a
    century. In the eyes of critics they have undermined democracy, but
    their supporters believe they are crucial to modern democracy's
    success. And so long as business and politics remain mutually
    dependent, they will continue to thrive.

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