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Bilderberg 2016: it’s time to take seriously this diplomatic summit

Written by Guest on Wednesday, 15 June 2016
Charlie_Skelton1 Charlie Skelton is a writer for the Guardian. The TI-UK blog features thought and opinion from guest writers as well as TI staff. Any opinions expressed by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International UK.

Another year, another Bilderberg conference done and dusted. Henry Kissinger has left the building. The limousines, bodyguards and snipers have left, the snazzy Airbus bubble-tent has been deflated, but some tricky questions remain. Questions, primarily, for the politicians who attended.

A hefty bulge of transatlantic political muscle took part in the Dresden talks: two prime ministers, four foreign ministers, a vice-president of the European Commission and a US Senator. Not to mention the deputy PM of Turkey and three members of the German Cabinet. Across the three intense days of the summit a range of important policy areas were discussed – topics on the agenda included “Russia”, “cyber security” and “commodity prices”. Yet the Bilderberg group itself takes pain to stress that this corporate-funded policy summit is not a “formal” event, describing the conference as “an annual forum for informal discussions” and “a forum for informal discussions about megatrends”.

The chairman of the group’s steering committee, Henri de Castries (the head of AXA and a director of HSBC) used similar language in a recent interview with a local Dresden paper, calling it “an informal group”. Likewise, Kenneth Clarke, a long-time member of Bilderberg, described it to Parliament in 2013 as “an off-the-record, informal discussion”. Clarke made a special effort to stress its informality: “We all attend extremely informally; we are not there in any capacity.”

 Now, we know for a fact this last claim isn’t wholly accurate. We knew this as far back as 2011 in St. Moritz, when the Treasury confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that “George Osborne is attending the Bilderberg conference in his official capacity as Chancellor of the Exchequer”. He was out there in Switzerland, we were told, with staff from the Treasury – although “probably not more than one”. At the time, the Bilderberg website was insisting: “Participants attend Bilderberg in a private and not an official capacity.” Which was straightforwardly untrue, and the claim was subsequently removed from the site.

 Every year, we see ministers attending these talks with ministerial staff. Just one example from Dresden: we’ve had it confirmed that the Belgian Prime Minister – Charles Michel – was accompanied by Antoine Evrard, his diplomatic advisor.

charlesmichel

The Belgian PM, Charles Michel, entering Bilderberg 2016. Photo: Hannah Borno.

Evrard is part of the three-person “cellule stratégique du Premier Ministre”. He’s not a door-opener or coffee-fetcher. He’s a senior diplomat: he’s there because the Bilderberg conference is a diplomatic event.

A diplomatic event which was attended this year by Senator Lindsey Graham. The Senator from South Carolina sat down with foreign dignitaries, finance ministers and advisors to discuss “US political landscape, economy: growth, debt, reform” – which raises the question of whether he was breaking the Logan Act by taking part.

What’s more, Bilderberg is a diplomatic event which is attended not just by ministers and advisors, but by people who have a keen interest in global policymaking for rather different reasons: people like the the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, the President of Siemens and three board members of BP.

European business was represented in Dresden at the highest level. By people like Ulrich Grillo, the head of German’s most powerful industrial lobby group, BDI – “the voice of German Industry” – and by no fewer than eight members of the influential European Round Table of Industrialists.

President of the BDI, Ulrich Grillo, ready to do business at Bilderberg. Photo: Hannah Borno.

President of the BDI, Ulrich Grillo, ready to do business at Bilderberg. Photo: Hannah Borno.

From the world of financial policymaking there were senior figures including a director of the European Central Bank and the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde. Alongside them, the heads of transnational banks and giant financial institutions like Banco Santander and Deutsche Bank. HSBC had two board members at Bilderberg 2016; Goldman Sachs made do with a director and a senior advisor.

Leading banker, Douglas Flint – Chairman of HSBC. Photo: Hannah Borno.

Leading banker, Douglas Flint – Chairman of HSBC. Photo: Hannah Borno.

It’s quite a heady brew. Senior lobbyists, business leaders, ministers, policymakers, diplomats and advisors – locked away discussing transatlantic policy for three days, with no press oversight whatsoever. A wall of silence around a hothouse of corporate lobbying. A profound failure of political transparency.

All of which is why the press should hold the politicians who attend these talks to account: policies were discussed, government advisors were present, and the public ends up being less well informed at the end of it than the CEO of Airbus. It just isn’t good enough.

Journalists across Europe, America and Canada, should be asking questions. If they don’t – if they’re happy to accept the “informal” brush-off by Bilderberg – then they’re clearly not taking this diplomatic summit as seriously as the politicians and diplomats who attend.

Top photo: Flickr / Mariano Mantel.

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Read 468 times Last modified on Monday, 20 June 2016 15:53

Guest

The TI-UK blog features thought and opinion from guest writers as well as TI staff. Any opinions expressed by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International UK.

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