How strong is the influence of the informal associations of the rich and powerful on government policy and international relations? One such organization, the Bilderberg Group, is often referred to as a shadow global government. As part of the project "Who rules your world?" Etienne Davignon, chairman of the organization, gave an exclusive interview to the BBC.
The chairman of this secretive - although he prefers the word "private" - the group is 73-year-old Viscount Etienne Davignon, formerly one of the Commissioners of the European Commission, and now the head of one of the corporations.
In his office in Brussels, whose walls are covered with cartoons of himself, Davignon shared his thoughts on theories that the Bilderberg Group is an international conspiratorial club that secretly rules the world.
“It’s inevitable and there’s no getting around it,” he said. "There will always be people willing to believe in conspiracies, but things are happening in a much more chaotic manner."
Etienne Davignon rarely gives interviews. In an interview with the BBC, he tried to downplay the importance of the Bilderberg Group in setting the international agenda: “The result of our meetings may be the conclusion that it would be wrong to turn a blind eye to this or that problem. But can we talk about a real consensus, about the action plan from paragraphs 1, 2 and 3? The answer is no. These people have too much common sense to believe that they can do it."
Every year since 1954, a small group of wealthy and powerful people have held meetings to discuss the state of the transatlantic alliance and the problems of Europe and the United States.
Its activities are chaired by a committee of two people from 18 countries represented in this organization. The Bilderberg Group, named after the hotel in Holland where its first meeting was held, brings together about 120 politicians and businessmen.
This year's meeting in Germany was attended by the heads of the World Bank, European Central Bank, heads of Nokia, BP, Unilever, DaimlerChrysler Pepsi and other multinational corporations, editors of five major newspapers, parliamentarians, ministers, European Commissioners, Crown Prince of Belgium and Queen of the Netherlands.
“I don't see us as a global ruling class because I don't think there is a global ruling class,” says Etienne Davignon. "I think they're just influential people who want to hang out with other influential people."
“The Bilderberg Group is not trying to draw any conclusions. She's not trying to say "we have to do this and that." Everyone expresses their views, and this makes the discussion absolutely open and quite frank, which allows you to understand what the differences in views are, explains Davignon. “Everyone knows that business and politics affect society. On the other hand, the business community does not challenge the right of democratically elected leaders to lead.”
For those who criticize the Bilderberg Group, the fact that the results of its annual meetings are hardly published is sufficient proof that nothing good can be expected from it. Jim Tucker, editor of the conservative American Free Press, believes Bilderberg members are waging wars and electing and removing political leaders. In his opinion, the Bilderberg Group is "evil." So where is the truth?
Professor Kees van der Peil of the University of Sussex in Britain believes that such informal groups of leading business and political leaders play an informal but key role in the modern world.
“There should be organizations where these people could reflect on the main problems of the future, coordinate their policies and try to come to a consensus,” says Kees van der Peil.
Will Hutton, an economic analyst who attended the 1997 Bilderberg meeting, says that people participate in such organizations with the aim of influencing the course of events in the world, bringing "international common sense" into politics.
“For every issue that could affect your business, you will hear first-hand statements from decision-makers in the field, and you will help them make those decisions with common sense,” says Hatton.
“Common sense” is in the interest of the core members of the Bilderberg Group, especially with regard to free trade. Viscount Davignon says there are always internationalists at the annual “round tables” - people who support the work of the World Trade Organization, transatlantic cooperation and European integration.
It is not uncommon for future political leaders to participate in Bilderberg Group meetings even before their names are known to everyone. In 1991, Bill Clinton attended its meeting while still the governor of Arkansas. Two years later, Tony Blair, then still a member of parliament for the opposition Labor Party. All of the most recent Presidents of the European Commission participated in the Bilderberg Group meetings prior to their appointment.
All of this has prompted accusations that the group is pushing its people into important political positions. However, Viscount Davignon claims that the members of her steering committee are excellent at identifying talented people. The committee "identifies new talented boys and girls who want to be noticed early in their careers."
“This is not pure chance, but it is not forecasting either; if they achieve something, it is not because of the Bilderberg Group, but because of themselves,”says Viscount Davignon.
However, critics argue that in the selection process, the Bilderberg Group favors those ambitious politicians whose views are in the interests of big business. However, this is not easy to prove - or disprove.
Observers, including Will Hutton, argue that there are both good and bad in such informal structures. They are not accountable to voters, but on the other hand, thanks to them, international mechanisms function. And their power is limited, as the chairman of the Bilderberg Group vigorously emphasizes: "When they say that this is a secret world government, my answer is that if this is really a secret world government, we should be terribly ashamed of ourselves."
Over the past 50 years, informal and informal organizations like the Bilderberg Group have lubricated the mechanism of world politics and contributed to the process of globalization. According to critics, they undermine democracy, and their supporters believe that they are necessary for the successful functioning of modern democracy. Such organizations will thrive as long as business and politics are interdependent.