Bilderberg conference: who will be at the secretive meeting?
Gathering of the biggest names in business and politics has always been prime fodder for conspiracy theorists
The annual Bilderberg conference begins tomorrow in Telfs-Buchen, a luxury ski resort in Austria, with leaders of industry, finance and the media meeting politicians to discuss global policy matters.
The conference – closed to reporters, guarded by undercover agents and bound by strict secrecy rules – has long been a favourite of conspiracy theorists. So who is attending this year and what will they discuss? We lift the lid on the secretive group that has been accused of wielding clandestine power to advance its own interests.
What is the Bilderberg Group?
Founded 60 years ago by Prince Berhnard of the Netherlands, the Bilderberg Group brings together senior politicians, economists, security experts and businesspeople from Europe and North America. The group took its name from its first conference, which was held at the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands, in May 1954. The group says the annual conference is meant to foster dialogue on major issues facing the world.
Who is attending this year?
Chancellor George Osborne will be making his eighth consecutive appearance at the summit, rubbing shoulders with some the most powerful business leaders in the world. The guest list includes bosses from HSBC, Royal Dutch Shell, Google and Goldman Sachs as well as Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg and former MI6 chief John Sawyers.
Heads of state from the Netherlands, Finland, Austria and Belgium have also confirmed their attendance. A select few journalists, including The Economist's editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, have also been invited - but will be sworn to secrecy.
Prime Minister David Cameron attended the conference two years ago and Prince Charles went in 1986. Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford are the only US presidents to have ever been to a Bilderberg meeting – "as far as we know," says the Daily Telegraph.
What will they be discussing?
"The 2015 conference agenda has a distinct whiff of war," says Charlie Skelton in The Guardian. Russia, Iran and the chemical weapons threat are set to top the agenda, with the head of Airbus, one of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers, in attendance. Other key topics will include problems in the Middle East and the upcoming presidential election in the US.
"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," says Skelton. "This is big business. And big politics. And big lobbying."
Why are conspiracy theorists so interested?
The meetings are held under the Chatham House Rule, a convention that allows speakers to advance unpopular opinions without fear of being identified. The group is deliberately vague on what is discussed at its annual meetings, but insists that discussions are informal. "There is no detailed agenda, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued," the Bilderberg website says.
What do conspiracy theorists believe?
The Bilderberg Group has long been accused of trying to form a New World Order. Responding to the allegations, the retired Labour politician and founding member of the group Denis Healey said: "To say we are striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. We felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing."
The Bilderberg group is said "to have launched the career of Margaret Thatcher; to control fleets of black helicopters; even to be secretly composed of giant shape-shifting lizards, bent on ruling the world", the Telegraph says.
In Yugoslavia, leading Serbs have blamed Bilderberg for causing the war which led to the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic, the BBC reports. The Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, the London nail-bomber David Copeland and Osama Bin Laden are all said to have believed in the covert power of the Bilderberg Group.
Could the theories be true?
Most commentators suspect not. As the Telegraph says, "today's world is so complicated and hydra-headed that no one actor, or even group of actors, can control it".
"People cling to the conspiracy theory because they want to believe that someone is capable of controlling things," the paper suggests. "But even for hyper-intelligent, shape-shifting lizards, bringing order to our chaotic world would be a bridge too far."
Nevertheless, many say that any meetings of the "global elite" should be held in the open.
After Cameron attended the meeting in 2013, Labour MP Michael Meacher said Bilderberg should drop its veil of secrecy. "These are really big decision makers who have come to concert their plans over the future of capitalism," he said. "That is going to affect us, the 99.99 per cent, very extensively.
"In a democratic system we have a right to know what they're talking about, what conclusions they reached and to ask some questions."