It’s been a week of celebrations for Henry Kissinger. On Tuesday he turned 91, on Wednesday he broke his personal best in the 400m hurdles, and on Thursday in Copenhagen, he’ll be clinking champagne flutes with the secretary general of Nato and the queen of Spain, as they celebrate 60 glorious years of Bilderberg. I just hope George Osborne remembered to pack a party hat.
Thursday is the opening day of the influential three-day summit and
it’s also the 60th anniversary of the Bilderberg Group’s first meeting,
which took place in Holland on 29 May 1954. So this year’s event is a
red-letter occasion, and the official participant list shows that the 2014 conference is a peculiarly high-powered affair.
The chancellor, at his seventh Bilderberg, is spending the next three
days deep in conference with the heads of MI6, Nato, the International
Monetary Fund, HSBC, Shell, BP and Goldman Sachs International, along
with dozens of other chief executives, billionaires and high-ranking
politicians from around Europe. This year also includes a visit from the
supreme allied commander Europe, and a return of royalty – Queen Sofia
of Spain and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, the daughter of the
Bilderberg founder Prince Bernhard.
Back in the 1950s, when Bernhard sent out the invitations, it was to
discuss “a number of problems facing western civilization”. These days,
the Bilderberg Group prefers to call them “megatrends”. The megatrends
on this year’s agenda include: “What next for Europe?”, “Ukraine”, “Intelligence sharing” and “Does privacy exist?”
That’s an exquisite irony: the world’s most secretive conference
discussing whether privacy exists. Certainly for some it does. It’s not
just birthday bunting that’s gone up in Copenhagen: there’s also a
double ring of three-metre (10ft) high security fencing. The hotel is
teeming with security: lithe gentlemen in loose slacks and dark glasses,
trying not to kill the birthday vibe. Or anyone else.
Already, two reporters have been arrested trying to interview the
organisers of the conference in the Marriott hotel bar. It’s easy enough
to keep your privacy intact when you’re employing so many people to
There’s something distinctly chilling about the existence of privacy
being debated, in extreme privacy, by people such as the executive
chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, and the board member of Facebook Peter
Thiel: exactly the people who know how radically transparent the
general public has become.
And to have them discussing it with the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers,
and Keith Alexander, the recently replaced head of the National
Security Agency. And with people such as the head of AXA, the insurance
and investment conglomerate – Henri de Castries.
Perhaps no one is more interested in data collection and public
surveillance than the insurance giants. For them, privacy is the enemy.
Public transparency is a goldmine.
Back in 2010, Osborne proudly launched “the most radical transparency
agenda the country has ever seen”. However, this transparency agenda
doesn’t seem to extend to Osborne himself making a public statement
about what he has discussed at this meeting. And with whom.
We know, from the agenda and list, that Osborne will be there with
the foreign affairs ministers from Spain and Sweden, and the deputy
secretary general of the French presidency. And from closer to home, the
international development secretary, Justine Greening, and fellow
Bilderberg veteran and shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.
We know that he’s scheduled to discuss the situation in Ukraine with
extremely interested parties, such as the chief executive of the
European arms giant Airbus, Thomas Enders. Not to mention the chief
executive and chairman of “the defence & security company” Saab:
Håkan Buskhe and Marcus Wallenberg. And billionaire investors including
Henry Kravis of KKR, who is “always looking to sharpen” what he calls
“the KKR edge”. Helping Kravis sharpen his edge is General David
Petraeus, former director of the CIA, now head of the KKR Global
Institute – a massive investment operation.
The Bilderberg Group says the conference has no desired outcome. But
for private equity giants, and the heads of banks, arms manufacturers
and oil companies, there’s always a desired outcome. Try telling the
shareholders of Shell that there’s “no desired outcome” of their
chairman and chief executive spending three days in conference with
politicians and policy makers.
Try telling that to the lobbyists who have been working so hard to
push the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal that is
being negotiated. Bilderberg is packed to the gills with senior members
of powerful lobby groups. Will members of British American Business’s
international advisory board, such as Douglas Flint and Peter
Sutherland, express BAB’s fervent support of TTIP when discussing “Is
the economic recovery sustainable?” Or will they leave their lobbying
hats at the door?
MP Michael Meacher describes Bilderberg as “the cabal of the rich and
powerful” who are working “to consolidate and extend the grip of the
markets”. And they’re doing so “beyond the reach of the media or the
public”. That said, every year, the press probes a little further behind
the security fencing. Every year the questions for the politicians who
attend, but remain silent, get harder.
They can try to laugh it off as a “talking shop” or a glorified
knees-up, but these people haven’t come to Bilderberg to drink fizzy
wine and pull party poppers. It’s possible that Reid Hoffman, the head
of LinkedIn, has turned up for the birthday cake. But I doubt it. This
is big business. And big politics. And big lobbying.
Bilderberg is big money, and they know how to spend it. From my spot
outside, I’ve just seen three vans full of fish delicacies trundle into
the hotel service entrance. I always thought there was something fishy
about Bilderberg. Turns out that for tonight at least, it’s the