THE SECRETIVE BILDERBERG Group meets in the small Austrian town of Telfs-Buchen today for its annual three-day summit.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is heading along for the first time this year – joining the likes of UK Chancellor George Osborne, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Google boss Eric Schmidt and fellow Irish attendee Peter Sutherland (the former AG and EU Commissioner is a regular guest).
The Bilderberg meetings are usually marked by a tight security presence – and the fact that the events are closed to the public has led to a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the goings-on at the group cropping up over the years.
Some groups have accused the organisation of being – at best – a mostly white, mostly male networking opportunity. While right-wing critics have accused it of attempting to promote a world government.
Perhaps the most bizarre claim in regard to the group, made by former BBC sports presenter David Icke, is that the majority of participants are, in fact, “inter-stellar reptilian humanoids”.
Just a chat?
The description of the group on Bilderberg’s own website puts forward an altogether more prosaic depiction of the get-together.
“Founded in 1954, the Bilderberg conference is an annual meeting designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America,” a brief press release says.
“The conference is a forum for informal discussions about major issues facing the world.
The meetings are held under the Chatham House Rule, which states that participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s) nor of any other participant may be revealed.
“Thanks to the private nature of the conference, the participants are not bound by the conventions of their office or by pre-agreed positions.
As such, they can take time to listen, reflect and gather insights. There is no desired outcome, no minutes are taken and no report is written. Furthermore, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued.
Denis Healey – who co-founded the group – told journalist Jon Ronson it was simply an informal networking event.
“Bilderberg is the most useful international group I ever attended,” Healy said, in an interview for the book Them.
The confidentiality enabled people to speak honestly without fear of repercussions.
Detractors – and not just the likes of Icke – claim that’s not telling half the story, however.
In his book “The Real Story of Bilderberg” investigative journalist David Estulinhe maintains the group has become “a kind of shadow world government, which decides during these annual meetings how it will implement its plans”.
So what goes on?
Documents provided to this website under Freedom of Information legislation back in 2012 provided a glimpse of what happens behind closed doors as the gathering.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan attended that year – and briefing notes sent to him show that the ‘official’ attendance list left off some very high profile guests who were later spotted at the conference, held that year in Washington DC.
On the agenda this year? The Bilderberg website lists Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Chemical Weapons Threats, Current Economic Issues, European Strategy, Globalisation, Terrorism and the US Elections – amongst other topics.
Highlighting why some critics believe the group is, in fact, a shadowy world government, The Guardian’s Charlie Skelton writes:
Europe’s hottest financial potato, Greece, is on the conference agenda, and it’s good to know Benoît Coeuré, a member of the executive board of the European Central Bank, will be there to discuss it in strictest privacy with interested parties, such as the heads of Deutsche Bank, Lazard, Banco Santander and HSBC.
The Irish connection
Three serving European prime ministers are among the 133 guests heading along this year – but no-one’s been invited from the Irish government.
Noonan, of course, attended three years ago, and Simon Coveney was invited last year.
Among other previous Irish attendees are another two former attorneys-general: former Tánaiste Michael McDowell and practising barrister Dermot Gleeson. The late former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, also attended during his tenure as Minister for External Affairs in the 1970s.
The group takes its name from the Dutch hotel in which its first meeting was held in 1954; the first conference was prompted by fears of a growing anti-American sentiment in Europe, leading a Polish politician to arrange a confidential meeting between a small group of individuals from both sides of the Atlantic.
The meetings have been held every year since, with one exception – 1976, when a bribery scandal involving a member of the Dutch royal family resulted in the event being called off.