Every year, the world's richest and most powerful business executives, bankers, media heads and politicians sit down in some luxurious and heavily guarded venue, and discuss how to shape the world in a way that maximizes profits for all involved, while perpetuating a status quo that has been highly beneficial for a select few, even if it means the ongoing destruction of the middle class. We are talking, of course, about the annual, and always secretive, Bilderberg meeting.
And just like last year's meeting in Dresden, the primary topic on the agenda of this year's 65th Bilderberg Meeting which starts today and ends on Sunday, is one: Donald Trump.
Ironically, this year "the storm around Donald Trump" as the SCMP puts it, is not half way around the world, but just a few miles west of the White House, in a conference centre in Chantilly, Virginia, where the embattled president will be getting his end-of-term grades from the people whose opinion actually matters: some 130 participating "Bilderbergs".
The secretive three-day summit of the political and economic elite kicks off Thursday in heavily guarded seclusion at the Westfields Marriot, a luxury hotel a short distance from the Oval Office.
As of Wednesday, the hotel was already on lockdown and an army of landscapers have been busy planting fir trees around the perimeter, to try protect "coy billionaires and bashful bank bosses" from prying lenses and/or projectiles. Perched ominously at the top of the conference agenda this year are these words: “The Trump Administration: A progress report”.
So is the president going to be put in detention for tweeting in class? Held back a year? Or told to empty his locker and leave? If ever there’s a place where a president could hear the words “you’re fired!”, it’s Bilderberg.
Sarcasm aside, the White House was taking no chances, sending along some big hitters from Team Trump to defend their boss: national security adviser, HR McMaster; the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross; and Trump’s new strategist, Chris Liddell (curiously, neither Gary Cohn nor Steven Mnuchin will be there although the controversial new Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Jose Barroso will be present). Could Trump himself show up to receive his report card in person: we are confident he will tweet all about it... which is probably why he will never be invited.
Stil, none other than Henry Kissinger, the gravel-throated kingpin of Bilderberg, visited the White House a few weeks ago to discuss “Russia and other things”, and certainly, the Bilderberg conference would be the perfect opportunity for the most powerful man in the world to discuss important global issues with Trump.
Sarcasm aside, what are among the "Trump agenda" items to be discussed? The publicly list is as follows:
- The Trump Administration: A progress report
- Trans-Atlantic relations: options and scenarios
- The Trans-Atlantic defence alliance: bullets, bytes and bucks
- The direction of the EU
- Can globalisation be slowed down?
- Jobs, income and unrealised expectations
- The war on information
- Why is populism growing?
- Russia in the international order
- The Near East
- Nuclear proliferation
- Current events
The US president’s extraordinary chiding of NATO leaders in Brussels is sure to be first and foremost on the Bilderberg discussing panel. The Bilderbergers have summoned the head of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg, to give feedback. Stoltenberg will be leading the snappily titled session on “The Transatlantic defence alliance: bullets, bytes and bucks”. He’ll be joined by the Dutch minister of defence and a clutch of senior European politicians and party leaders, all hoping to reset the traumatised transatlantic relationship after Trump’s galumphing visit.
As the Guardian puts it, the guest list for this year’s conference is a veritable “covfefe” of big-hitters from geopolitics, from the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, to the king of Holland, but perhaps the most significant name on the list is Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the US.
According to the meeting’s agenda, “China” will also be discussed at a summit attended by Cui, the US commerce secretary, the US national security adviser, two US senators, the governor of Virginia, two former CIA chiefs and any number of giant US investors in China, including the heads of the financial services firms the Carlyle Group and KKR. And for good reason: as last night's PMI numbers showed, the Chinese economy - the global growth dynamo - is finally contracting. If China goes, the rest of the world will follow.
Additionally, the boss of Google Eric Schmidt, who warned in January that Trump’s administration will do “evil things”, is expected to attend, too. The executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s holding company, has just come back from a trip to Beijing, where he was overseeing Google AI’s latest game of Go against humans. He declared it “a pleasure to be back in China, a country that I admire a great deal”. It’s possible three days spent chatting to the Chinese ambassador could even be good for business.
Several journalists are participating in this year’s forum, including London Evening Standard editor George Osborne and Cansu Camlibel, the Washington bureau chief for Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper. But per convention, news outlets are not invited to cover the event.
“There is no desired outcome, no minutes are taken and no report is written,” the group stated. “Furthermore, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued.”
Ex-deputy secretary of state William Burns and former deputy assistant secretary of defence Elaine Bunn, both Obama-era officials, will also attend. Burns, the current president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has warned that Trump “risks hollowing out the ideas, initiative and institutions on which US leadership and international order rest.”
With one of the agenda items titled simply enough "can globalisation be slowed down?" it is no surprise that anti-globalisation protesters have already descended on the location of the meeting.
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Below is a full list of this year's participants:
- Castries, Henri de (FRA), Former Chairman and CEO, AXA; President of Institut Montaigne
- Achleitner, Paul M. (DEU), Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Deutsche Bank AG
- Adonis, Andrew (GBR), Chair, National Infrastructure Commission
- Agius, Marcus (GBR), Chairman, PA Consulting Group
- Akyol, Mustafa (TUR), Senior Visiting Fellow, Freedom Project at Wellesley College
- Alstadheim, Kjetil B. (NOR), Political Editor, Dagens Næringsliv
- Altman, Roger C. (USA), Founder and Senior Chairman, Evercore
- Arnaut, José Luis (PRT), Managing Partner, CMS Rui Pena & Arnaut
- Barroso, José M. Durão (PRT), Chairman, Goldman Sachs International
- Bäte, Oliver (DEU), CEO, Allianz SE
- Baumann, Werner (DEU), Chairman, Bayer AG
- Baverez, Nicolas (FRA), Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
- Benko, René (AUT), Founder and Chairman of the Advisory Board, SIGNA Holding GmbH
- Berner, Anne-Catherine (FIN), Minister of Transport and Communications
- Botín, Ana P. (ESP), Executive Chairman, Banco Santander
- Brandtzæg, Svein Richard (NOR), President and CEO, Norsk Hydro ASA
- Brennan, John O. (USA), Senior Advisor, Kissinger Associates Inc.
- Bsirske, Frank (DEU), Chairman, United Services Union
- Buberl, Thomas (FRA), CEO, AXA
- Bunn, M. Elaine (USA), Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
- Burns, William J. (USA), President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- Çakiroglu, Levent (TUR), CEO, Koç Holding A.S.
- Çamlibel, Cansu (TUR), Washington DC Bureau Chief, Hürriyet Newspaper
- Cebrián, Juan Luis (ESP), Executive Chairman, PRISA and El País
- Clemet, Kristin (NOR), CEO, Civita
- Cohen, David S. (USA), Former Deputy Director, CIA
- Collison, Patrick (USA), CEO, Stripe
- Cotton, Tom (USA), Senator
- Cui, Tiankai (CHN), Ambassador to the United States
- Döpfner, Mathias (DEU), CEO, Axel Springer SE
- Elkann, John (ITA), Chairman, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
- Enders, Thomas (DEU), CEO, Airbus SE
- Federspiel, Ulrik (DNK), Group Executive, Haldor Topsøe Holding A/S
- Ferguson, Jr., Roger W. (USA), President and CEO, TIAA
- Ferguson, Niall (USA), Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
- Gianotti, Fabiola (ITA), Director General, CERN
- Gozi, Sandro (ITA), State Secretary for European Affairs
- Graham, Lindsey (USA), Senator
- Greenberg, Evan G. (USA), Chairman and CEO, Chubb Group
- Griffin, Kenneth (USA), Founder and CEO, Citadel Investment Group, LLC
- Gruber, Lilli (ITA), Editor-in-Chief and Anchor "Otto e mezzo", La7 TV
- Guindos, Luis de (ESP), Minister of Economy, Industry and Competiveness
- Haines, Avril D. (USA), Former Deputy National Security Advisor
- Halberstadt, Victor (NLD), Professor of Economics, Leiden University
- Hamers, Ralph (NLD), Chairman, ING Group
- Hedegaard, Connie (DNK), Chair, KR Foundation
- Hennis-Plasschaert, Jeanine (NLD), Minister of Defence, The Netherlands
- Hobson, Mellody (USA), President, Ariel Investments LLC
- Hoffman, Reid (USA), Co-Founder, LinkedIn and Partner, Greylock
- Houghton, Nicholas (GBR), Former Chief of Defence
- Ischinger, Wolfgang (INT), Chairman, Munich Security Conference
- Jacobs, Kenneth M. (USA), Chairman and CEO, Lazard
- Johnson, James A. (USA), Chairman, Johnson Capital Partners
- Jordan, Jr., Vernon E. (USA), Senior Managing Director, Lazard Frères & Co. LLC
- Karp, Alex (USA), CEO, Palantir Technologies
- Kengeter, Carsten (DEU), CEO, Deutsche Börse AG
- Kissinger, Henry A. (USA), Chairman, Kissinger Associates Inc.
- Klatten, Susanne (DEU), Managing Director, SKion GmbH
- Kleinfeld, Klaus (USA), Former Chairman and CEO, Arconic
- Knot, Klaas H.W. (NLD), President, De Nederlandsche Bank
- Koç, Ömer M. (TUR), Chairman, Koç Holding A.S.
- Kotkin, Stephen (USA), Professor in History and International Affairs, Princeton University
- Kravis, Henry R. (USA), Co-Chairman and Co-CEO, KKR
- Kravis, Marie-Josée (USA), Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute
- Kudelski, André (CHE), Chairman and CEO, Kudelski Group
- Lagarde, Christine (INT), Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
- Lenglet, François (FRA), Chief Economics Commentator, France 2
- Leysen, Thomas (BEL), Chairman, KBC Group
- Liddell, Christopher (USA), Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives
- Lööf, Annie (SWE), Party Leader, Centre Party
- Mathews, Jessica T. (USA), Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- McAuliffe, Terence (USA), Governor of Virginia
- McKay, David I. (CAN), President and CEO, Royal Bank of Canada
- McMaster, H.R. (USA), National Security Advisor
- Micklethwait, John (INT), Editor-in-Chief, Bloomberg LP
- Minton Beddoes, Zanny (INT), Editor-in-Chief, The Economist
- Molinari, Maurizio (ITA), Editor-in-Chief, La Stampa
- Monaco, Lisa (USA), Former Homeland Security Officer
- Morneau, Bill (CAN), Minister of Finance
- Mundie, Craig J. (USA), President, Mundie & Associates
- Murtagh, Gene M. (IRL), CEO, Kingspan Group plc
- Netherlands, H.M. the King of the (NLD)
- Noonan, Peggy (USA), Author and Columnist, The Wall Street Journal
- O'Leary, Michael (IRL), CEO, Ryanair D.A.C.
- Osborne, George (GBR), Editor, London Evening Standard
- Papahelas, Alexis (GRC), Executive Editor, Kathimerini Newspaper
- Papalexopoulos, Dimitri (GRC), CEO, Titan Cement Co.
- Petraeus, David H. (USA), Chairman, KKR Global Institute
- Pind, Søren (DNK), Minister for Higher Education and Science
- Puga, Benoît (FRA), Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor and Chancellor of the National Order of Merit
- Rachman, Gideon (GBR), Chief Foreign Affairs Commentator, The Financial Times
- Reisman, Heather M. (CAN), Chair and CEO, Indigo Books & Music Inc.
- Rivera Díaz, Albert (ESP), President, Ciudadanos Party
- Rosén, Johanna (SWE), Professor in Materials Physics, Linköping University
- Ross, Wilbur L. (USA), Secretary of Commerce
- Rubenstein, David M. (USA), Co-Founder and Co-CEO, The Carlyle Group
- Rubin, Robert E. (USA), Co-Chair, Council on Foreign Relations and Former Treasury Secretary
- Ruoff, Susanne (CHE), CEO, Swiss Post
- Rutten, Gwendolyn (BEL), Chair, Open VLD
- Sabia, Michael (CAN), CEO, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec
- Sawers, John (GBR), Chairman and Partner, Macro Advisory Partners
- Schadlow, Nadia (USA), Deputy Assistant to the President, National Security Council
- Schmidt, Eric E. (USA), Executive Chairman, Alphabet Inc.
- Schneider-Ammann, Johann N. (CHE), Federal Councillor, Swiss Confederation
- Scholten, Rudolf (AUT), President, Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue
- Severgnini, Beppe (ITA), Editor-in-Chief, 7-Corriere della Sera
- Sikorski, Radoslaw (POL), Senior Fellow, Harvard University
- Slat, Boyan (NLD), CEO and Founder, The Ocean Cleanup
- Spahn, Jens (DEU), Parliamentary State Secretary and Federal Ministry of Finance
- Stephenson, Randall L. (USA), Chairman and CEO, AT&T
- Stern, Andrew (USA), President Emeritus, SEIU and Senior Fellow, Economic Security Project
- Stoltenberg, Jens (INT), Secretary General, NATO
- Summers, Lawrence H. (USA), Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University
- Tertrais, Bruno (FRA), Deputy Director, Fondation pour la recherche stratégique
- Thiel, Peter (USA), President, Thiel Capital
- Topsøe, Jakob Haldor (DNK), Chairman, Haldor Topsøe Holding A/S
- Ülgen, Sinan (TUR), Founding and Partner, Istanbul Economics
- Vance, J.D. (USA), Author and Partner, Mithril
- Wahlroos, Björn (FIN), Chairman, Sampo Group, Nordea Bank, UPM-Kymmene Corporation
- Wallenberg, Marcus (SWE), Chairman, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB
- Walter, Amy (USA), Editor, The Cook Political Report
- Weston, Galen G. (CAN), CEO and Executive Chairman, Loblaw Companies Ltd and George Weston Companies
- White, Sharon (GBR), Chief Executive, Ofcom
- Wieseltier, Leon (USA), Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow in Culture and Policy, The Brookings Institution
- Wolf, Martin H. (INT), Chief Economics Commentator, Financial Times
- Wolfensohn, James D. (USA), Chairman and CEO, Wolfensohn & Company
- Wunsch, Pierre (BEL), Vice-Governor, National Bank of Belgium
- Zeiler, Gerhard (AUT), President, Turner International
- Zients, Jeffrey D. (USA), Former Director, National Economic Council
- Zoellick, Robert B. (USA), Non-Executive Chairman, AllianceBernstein L.P.
Natrually, the secretive nature of the group has given birth to conspiracy theories. Some have claimed that the Bilderberg is a group of rich and powerful kingmakers seeking to impose a one world government. Whether that is true remains in the eye of the beholder, however one thing is clear: as the graph below shows, the members are connected to virtually every important and relevant organization, media outlet, company and political entity in the world.