The Bilderberg Group, Bilderberg conference, or Bilderberg Club is an annual, unofficial, invitation-only conference of approximately 120 to 140 guests from North America and Western Europe, most of whom are people of influence. About one-third are from government and politics, and two-thirds from finance, industry, labour, education and communications. Meetings are closed to the public and often feature future political leaders shortly before they become household names.
The group meets annually at hotels or resorts throughout the world - for two consecutive years in Europe followed by a year in the United States or Canada. This tradition appeared to be broken in 2008 when the meeting was held in Chantilly, Virginia, so as to give easier access to those associated with the US elections. The 2009 Bilderberg meeting took place from 14-16 May in Athens, Greece.
The original Bilderberg conference was held at the Hotel de Bilderberg, near Arnhem in The Netherlands, from 29 May to 31 May 1954. It was initiated by several people, including Denis Healey and Jozef Retinger, concerned about the growth of anti-Americanism in Western Europe, who proposed an international conference at which leaders from European countries and the United States would be brought together with the aim of promoting understanding between the cultures of the United States and Western Europe.
Retinger approached Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who agreed to promote the idea, together with Belgian Prime Minister Paul Van Zeeland, and the head of Unilever at that time, the Dutchman Paul Rijkens. Bernhard in turn contacted Walter Bedell Smith, then head of the CIA, who asked Eisenhower adviser Charles Douglas Jackson to deal with the suggestion.
The guest list was to be drawn up by inviting two attendees from each nation, one of each to represent conservative and liberal points of view. Fifty delegates from 11 countries in Western Europe attended the first conference along with 11 Americans.
The success of the meeting led the organizers to arrange an annual conference. A permanent Steering Committee was established, with Retinger appointed as permanent secretary. As well as organizing the conference, the steering committee also maintained a register of attendee names and contact details, with the aim of creating an informal network of individuals who could call upon one another in a private capacity. Conferences were held in France, Germany, and Denmark over the following three years.
In 1957, the first US conference was held in St. Simons, Georgia, with $30,000 from the Ford Foundation. The foundation supplied further funding for the 1959 and 1963 conferences.
Meetings are organized by a steering committee with two members from each of around eighteen nations. Official posts, in addition to a chairman, include an Honorary Secretary General. There is no such category in the group's rules as a "member of the group". The only category that exists is "member of the Steering Committee". In addition to the committee, there also exists a separate advisory group, though membership overlaps.
Dutch economist Ernst van der Beugel took over as permanent secretary in 1960, upon Retinger's death. Prince Bernhard continued to serve as the meeting's chairman until 1976, the year of his involvement in the Lockheed affair. The position of Honorary American Secretary General has been held successively by Joseph E. Johnson of the Carnegie Endowment, William Bundy of Princeton, Theodore L. Eliot, Jr., former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, and Casimir A. Yost of Georgetown's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.
A 2008 press release from the American Friends of Bilderberg stated that "Bilderberg's only activity is its annual Conference. At the meetings, no resolutions are proposed, no votes taken, and no policy statements issued" and noted that the names of attendees were available to the press. The Bilderberg group unofficial headquarters is the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (1954-1975)
Alec Douglas-Home (1977-1980)
Eric Roll (1986-1989)
Lord Carrington (1990-1998)
The steering committee does not publish a list of attendees, though some participants have publicly discussed their attendance. Historically, attendee lists have been weighted towards politicians, bankers, and directors of large businesses.
Heads of state, including Juan Carlos I of Spain and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, have attended meetings. Prominent politicians from North America and Europe are past attendees. In past years, board members from many large publicly-traded corporations have attended, including IBM, Xerox, Royal Dutch Shell, Nokia and Daimler.
The 2009 meeting participants in Greece included: Greek prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis; Finnish prime minister, Matti Vanhanen; Sweden foreign minister, Carl Bildt; U.S. State Department number two, James Steinberg; U.S. Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner; World Bank president, Robert Zoellick; European Commission head, Jose Manuel Barroso; Queen Sofia of Spain; and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
List of Bilderberg Participants
In a European Parliament session in Brussels, Mario Borghezio, an Italian member of European Parliament, questioned the nominations of Bilderberg and Trilateral Commission attendees for the posts of EU President and EU foreign minister. The Trilateral Commission was established by David Rockefeller in 1972 after the Bilderberg Group refused to incorporate Japan.
In 2009 the group had a dinner meeting at Castle of the Valley of the Duchess in Brussels, in the 12th of November, with the participation of Herman Van Rompuy, who later became the President of the European Council. The newspaper De Tijd (and several others afterwards) reported that, at this meeting, Van Rompuy showed support for a European green tax: "Van Rompuy told the elite club that the European government leaders are increasingly becoming proponents of Europe tapping off green income, so that the contributions of member states to the EU can be decreased."
According to chairman Étienne Davignon, a major attraction of Bilderberg group meetings is that they provide an opportunity for participants to speak and debate candidly and to find out what major figures really think, without the risk of off-the-cuff comments becoming fodder for controversy in the media. However, partly because of its working methods to ensure strict privacy, the Bilderberg group is accused of conspiracies. This outlook has been popular on both extremes of the political spectrum, even if they disagree on what the group wants to do. Some on the left accuse the Bilderberg group of conspiring to impose capitalist domination, while some on the right have accused the group of conspiring to impose a world government and planned economy.
Politico journalist Kenneth P. Vogel reports that it is the "exclusive roster of globally influential figures that has captured the interest of an international network of conspiracists," who for decades have seen the Bilderberg meetings as a "corporate-globalist scheme", and are convinced powerful elites are moving the planet toward an oligarchic “new world order”. He goes on to state that these conspiracist's "populist paranoid worldview", characterized by a suspicion of the ruling class rather than any prevailing partisan or ideological affiliation, is widely articulated on overnight AM radio shows and numerous Internet websites.
Proponents of Bilderberg conspiracy theories in the United States include individuals and groups such as the John Birch Society, political activist Phyllis Schlafly, writer Jim Tucker, political activist Lyndon LaRouche, radio host Alex Jones, and politician Jesse Ventura, who made the Bilderberg group a topic of a 2009 episode of his TruTV series Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura. Non-American proponents include Russian-Canadian writer Daniel Estulin.
In 2001, Denis Healey, a Bilderberg group founder and, for 30 years, a steering committee member, said: "To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn't go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing." In 2005 Davignon discussed these accusations with the BBC: "It is unavoidable and it doesn't matter. There will always be people who believe in conspiracies but things happen in a much more incoherent fashion... 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."
In a 1994 report Right Woos Left, published by the Political Research Associates, investigative journalist Chip Berlet argued that right-wing populist conspiracy theories about the Bilderberg group date back as early as 1964 and can be found in Schlafly's self-published book A Choice, Not an Echo, which promoted a conspiracy theory in which the Republican Party was secretly controlled by elitist intellectuals dominated by members of the Bilderberger group, whose internationalist policies would pave the way for world communism.
Paradoxically, in August 2010 former Cuban president Fidel Castro wrote an article for the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma in which he cited Daniel Estulin’s 2006 book The Secrets of the Bilderberg Club, which, as quoted by Castro, describes "sinister cliques and the Bilderberg lobbyists" manipulating the public "to install a world government that knows no borders and is not accountable to anyone but its own self."
G. William Domhoff, a research professor in psychology and sociology who studies theories of power,sees the role of international relations forums and social clubs such as the Bilderberg group as a place to share ideas, reach consensus, and create social cohesion within a power elite. He adds that this understanding of forums and clubs such as the Bilderberg group fits with the perceptions of the members of the elite. Domhoff warns progressives against getting distracted by conspiracy theories which demonize and scapegoat such forums and clubs. He argues that the opponents of progressivism in the United States are conservatives within the corporate elite and the Republican Party. It is more or less the same people who belong to forums and clubs such as the Bilderberg group, but it puts them in their most important roles, as capitalists and political leaders, which are visible and therefore easier to fight.
Author James McConnachie comments that conspiracy theorists have a point, but that they fail to communicate it effectively. He argues that the Bilderberg group acts in a manner consistent with a global conspiracy, but does so without the same "degree of nefariousness", a difference not appreciated by conspiracy theorists, who "tend to see this cabal as outright evil. McConnachie concludes: "Occasionally you have to give credit to conspiracy theorists who raise issues that the mainstream press has ignored. It's only recently that the media has picked up on the Bilderbergers. Would the media be running stories if there weren't these wild allegations flying around?"
2011: July 9-12 - Suvretta House in St. Moritz, Switzerland
2010: June 3-7 - Hotel Dolce in Sitges, Spain
2009: May 14-16 - Astir Palace resort in Athens, Greece
2008: June 5-8 - Westfields Marriott in Chantilly, Virginia, United States
2007: May 31 - June 3 - Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in Sisli, Istanbul, Turkey
2006: June 8-11 - Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
2005 May 5-8 - Dorint Sofitel Seehotel Uberfahrt in Rottach-Egern, Germany
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