By Nicole della Pietra
The Bilderberg Group, a controversial invitation-only gathering of the world’s power brokers, is set to meet in the Swiss resort of St Moritz on Thursday.
Critics denounce the four-day conference, which is closed to the prying eyes of the media and doesn’t issue any press releases, for having a deleterious influence on world politics.
Previous guests include kings, presidents, captains of industry and heads of international organisations. United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has attended, as have Microsoft founder Bill Gates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and current Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke.
Another regular is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, currently facing criminal charges.
“The Bilderberg Group is like a restricted circle of guests from the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos,” said Sergio Rossi, economics professor at Fribourg University.
He said the regulars at Bilderberg – named after the original conference held at the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands in 1954 – find the WEF a “hectic beanfeast”.
At Bilderberg, “one is at Hermès”, noted Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization, referring to the French luxury goods maker.
Invitees appreciate being able to discuss “openly and freely” the issues facing the world, such as the health of the euro or the greenback.
Pascal Couchepin, a former Swiss cabinet minister who regularly attended Bilderberg meetings, proudly compared the annual get-together to a “university seminar for people with experience”.
But not all Swiss politicians are so welcoming. Dominique Baettig from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party has filed a motion denouncing the “opaque supranational governance”.
“This type of meeting, between powerful global players, is contrary to our principles of sovereignty,” he said. “What’s more, they don’t publish the costs for the taxpayer.”
The allure of the ultra-select club is not fading, as proved by the private jets landing at nearby Samedan airport, the lines of limousines with tinted windows and phalanxes of bodyguards.
And above all, the relatively discreet arrival of VIPs – something that delights the local authorities.
“We’re thrilled that these key figures have chosen to meet in Graubünden,” said Martin Schmid, president of the cantonal senate.
Which key figures exactly are gracing Graubünden with their presence is impossible to say, but, as every year, the guest list is exclusively reserved for decision-makers from Europe and North America.
In an unusual step, Swiss minister Doris Leuthard, who holds the environment, transport, energy and communications portfolios, admitted she would attend this year.
It’s the fifth time that the planet’s most exclusive conclave has met in Switzerland: it was held three times in Bürgenstock above Lake Lucerne and once at Bad Ragaz in canton St Gallen.
This year, some 130 movers and shakers are expected. As with Davos and the WEF, St Moritz will be heavily fortified – one difference, however, being the total lack of information on security or how much taxpayers will have to cough up.
Barbara Janom-Steiner, head of cantonal justice and police, is keeping her lips sealed.
For conspiracy theorists, Bilderberg is nothing more than an “International Schemers’ Association” whose aim is to create a “secret world government”.
They point to the total lack of transparency which characterises discussions, since every participant swears never to reveal any contents of conversations.
However, this has not prevented titbits from leaking out – last year for example the discussions apparently focused on Iraq, Greece and the health – or lack of it – of the euro.
Bilderberg never results in any form of resolution or agreement, nevertheless some people see a decisive influence on global political affairs.
Among what they consider previous troubling coincidences: in 1991, Bill Clinton, then a mere governor, was said to have been set up as future US president; in 2002, Donald Rumsfeld, then US secretary of defense, was said to have planned the intervention of coalition forces in Iraq.
In 2003, former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, allegedly unveiled a preview of the European Constitution.
But as the world’s media peer into the tinted windows of St Moritz, Sergio Rossi believes Bilderberg could be just the tip of the iceberg.
“There might be other groups – less institutionalised, with a more recent history and above all less well-known than Bilderberg, even in developing countries – whose members meet without anyone knowing anything about it.”
(Adapted from French by Thomas Stephens)