Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Central Bankers

Andrew Gavin Marshall | Occupy | 14 Jan 2015

his is the eighth installment in a series examining the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first partsecond partthird partfourth partfifth partsixth part and seventh part in the series.

Central banks have been among the most important and influential institutions throughout the financial and debt crises of the past seven years. In Europe, the big central banks act not simply as the top monetary authorities within individual countries, but they also concentrate their authority and operations in the European Central Bank (ECB), managing the EU’s single currency, the euro.

Between 2008 and 2012, Bilderberg meetings were attended by the top technocratic officials from the ECB, the Federal Reserve, Bank of Canada, Bank of England, Deutsche Bundesbank (German central bank), Bank of Finland, National Bank of Belgium, De Nederlandsche Bank (Dutch central bank), Bank of Italy, Bank of France and the Swiss National Bank. These technocrats played a key role in managing Europe’s debt crisis, in frequent cooperation with finance ministers and other technocrats of the Troika (IMF, ECB and the European Commission).

Jean-Claude Trichet served as President of the ECB from 2003 to 2011, having attended Bilderberg meetings in 2008, 2009 and 2011. He was responsible for shaping much of the early response to the EU debt crisis. In 2010, Trichet and the ECB emerged as a strong advocate of austerity measures and was at the “forefront” of demanding “tougher rules – backed by sanctions,” as well as “independent monitoring” of national budgets. In a Financial Times editorial that year, Trichet declared that “now is the time to restore fiscal sustainability,” by which he meant: to implement harsh austerity measures and structural reforms to the economy.

Since leaving his post as president of the ECB in late 2011, Trichet has joined corporate boards and taken up leadership positions at major think tanks. Apart from being a member of the steering committee of Bilderberg, he is the European Chairman of the Trilateral Commission, the Chairman of Bruegel (an economic think tank based in Brussels), and sits on the board of the world’s top economic think tank, the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics. He also serves as chairman of the Group of Thirty, honorary governor of the Bank of France, and is a member of the Group of Trustees of the Institute of International Finance (IIF).

In place of Trichet, the Italian Central Bank chief, Mario Draghi, was appointed as head of the European Central Bank in late 2011. Draghi had attended Bilderberg meetings in 2008 and 2009 while he headed the Bank of Italy (from 2006 to 2011). He also served as chairman of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), from 2009 to 2011, and its predecessor, the Financial Stability Forum, from 2006 to 2009, both of which were run out of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central bank to the world’s central banks. Draghi has served as a director at the BIS from 2006 until the present. Draghi previously served as a Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Goldman Sachs International from 2002 until 2005, and currently sits alongside Jean-Claude Trichet and other top financial technocrats and financiers as a member of the Group of Thirty.

Jorg Asmussen was appointed to the executive board of the ECB in 2012, following his post as a deputy finance minister in the German government from 2008 to 2011. Asmussen is also a member of the Group of Trustees of the Institute of International Finance (IIF), and since 2013 he has been the State Secretary of Labour and Social Affairs in the German government. In 2014, Asmussen attended a Bilderberg meeting alongside his former colleague, Benoit Coeuré, who was also appointed as an executive board member of the ECB in 2012 to work directly with Asmussen and Draghi. Coeuré remains on the ECB’s board, coming from a long career in the French finance ministry.

In December of 2011, shortly after becoming the head of the ECB, Mario Draghi told the Financial Times that in order to “restore confidence” on the part of financial markets, “we have to restore fiscal discipline to the euro area,” which would require extensive austerity measures. Countries would also be required “to undergo significant structural reforms that would revamp growth,” requiring further deregulation and liberalization of their economies, enhancing the very problems that led to the crisis. Draghi suggested that there was no alternative to harsh austerity measures in the EU.

In February of 2012, Draghi reiterated his views in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, explaining that “austerity, coupled with structural change, is the only option for economic renewal,” and that there was “no alternative to fiscal consolidation.” In the same interview, Draghi further suggested that “the European social model has already gone,” warning that “backtracking on fiscal targets [austerity] would elicit an immediate reaction by the market.”

In the summer of 2012, Mario Draghi declared that the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to protect the Eurozone. With this statement, he calmed two years of crisis and financial turmoil as financial markets saw their faith in the euro and the EU project restored. Following that declaration, Draghi worked with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, together with Jorg Asmussen and Benoit Coeuré, formed a tight technocratic unit within the ECB. A detailed Financial Times exposé on the European debt crisis noted that Asmussen and Coeuré “would become the core of Mr. Draghi’s new crisis-fighting team, building bridges to Paris and Berlin in ways their predecessors could not.”

Together, these three technocrats attempted to generate a consensus and form a policy that would define how the ECB and the EU handles future crises. The three men had to contend with the demands and interests of the three most stubborn countries: Germany, Finland and the Netherlands. They successfully gained the support of the Dutch and Finnish central banks, and when they gained the support of Angela Merkel, the sole voice of opposition was Jens Weidmann, president of the German Bundesbank.

The plan was acceptable to Merkel and other hardliners because in return for financing the debts of crisis nations, the ECB rescue operation would require strict conditions demanding austerity and structural reforms. Indeed, the only way Germany (and Merkel) could be won over was to ensure that the conditions allowed for “centralized control.” Following the announcement of the final program, known as Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT), Merkel declared that “control and help… go hand in hand.”

In 2014, the Financial Times noted that Mario Draghi had reinforced the “grip” of central bankers “over the destiny of financial markets, as well as economies – in emerging regions as well.” Markets have learned to “put a lot of faith in central bankers always coming up with ‘something else’” in order to solve crises, the paper wrote.

In February of 2013, Asmussen delivered a speech in Berlin, at the Hertie School of Governance, where he explained that “global governance is still in essence the globalization of national governance,” noting that power in the world “has partly evaporated from the Nation-State to the global level,” while politics “remains largely local and national.”

A few months later, in a June 2013 speech delivered at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Asmussen stated that “global economic cooperation is needed to design better institutions,” citing what he viewed as the positive examples of global governance in organizations like the G20, though he warned that such institutions “might appear distant to citizens, which is not helpful for legitimacy.”

And in another speech that same month to the bankers and financial institutions assembled at the spring membership meeting of the Institute of International Finance, Asmussen reaffirmed his commitment to serve the interests of financial markets, stating that it was “essential to increase confidence in the euro area banking sector” and “to reintegrate financial markets.”

When Jorg Asmussen resigned from the executive board of the ECB in late 2013, Draghi praised him, saying that he had “been a tremendous help in shaping the monetary policy in the past two years while successfully addressing many other challenges.”

And when Benoit Coeuré left his position as deputy director-general of the French Treasury to join the executive board of the ECB in late 2011, The New York Times described him as belonging “to the inner circle of officials who manage the country’s debt and finances and has also been a key figure behind the scenes at meetings of the Group of 20 countries.”

In a March 2013 speech at Harvard, Coeuré stated that one of the main challenges of the crisis was “redefining the social contract” which would “inevitably change the organization and role of the state, as well as the institutional architecture of Economic and Monetary Union.” He also explained that the crisis had “resulted in a threat to social cohesion, straining the social contract in its different dimensions,” notably with high youth unemployment reaching 24% across Europe (as of January 2013). The policies implemented in response to the crisis were “inevitable,” but, he added, they were taking a toll with very high “social costs.” He warned that Europe suffered a “democratic deficit,” as most people in Europe “feel disconnected from EU decision-making… they see a process controlled by elites with no truly democratic credentials.”

From 1997 to 2011, Nout Wellink served as president of the Dutch central bank. In one influential survey, Wellink was named as “the most important financial regulator” in 2010. As head of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS), Wellink was responsible for “>leading the process of “reform” and “regulation” of the financial sector (known as Basel III). Wellink attended Bilderberg meetings in both 2009 and 2010, where he met in private with many of the top banks he was tasked with regulating.

In April of 2011, the Financial Times commented that Nout Wellink was “a heavyweight on the ECB [governing] council,” and that he was being considered as a possible replacement for Jean-Claude Trichet to head the ECB, if Germany were to block the appointment of Mario Draghi.

Klaas Knot replaced Wellink as the head of the Dutch central bank, and also attended the Bilderberg meeting in 2013. Shortly after Knot took the reigns at the Dutch central bank and became a key figure at the ECB, the Financial Times reported that he was “gaining a reputation as a conservative, or ‘hawk’,” among key financial technocrats.

Luc Coene, the governor of the central bank of Belgium and a member of the governing council of the ECB since 2011, attended Bilderberg meetings in 2009 and 2011. In a May 2012 interview with the Financial Times, Coene explained that in the European Union, “We have lived beyond our means for the past ten years and now there needs to be a correction somewhere,” noting that the main crisis was “a crisis of confidence,” with the issues being “about fiscal policy, growth prospects, [and] the soundness of banking systems.”

The job of central banks and monetary policy, Coene stressed, was to “provide breathing space to implement all these things.” When asked about enhancing the transparency of the ECB, Coene suggested that it was already “relatively transparent” in how it communicates, though added: “You don’t say when you are in an emergency situation, because then you make the situation worse. So I really don’t see the usefulness of being more transparent.”

In an October 2012 panel debate on the Eurozone crisis in Brussels, Luc Coene challenged economists who questioned the usefulness of imposing austerity measures they said had an immediate effect of deepening a recession. Coene stated: “To think that austerity could be avoided is naïve.”

In June of 2014, Coene stressed the need for Belgium to impose further austerity measures and structural reforms on its population, stating that “we absolutely must carry on with structural reforms,” athough, he added, “this isn’t the central bank’s job, it is the government’s job, and if this isn’t done there might be doubts about the capacity to reduce our deficit,” and therefore, financial markets might push Belgium into a crisis.

In November, Belgium imposed further austerity measures, prompting protests and riots as more than 100,000 people took to the streets to oppose the government’s policies. Coene stated that if the “structural” problems were not addressed immediately, the next generation would suffer more: “The people who go on strike against these savings measures, are actually saying to their children: get lost. I find that really bad.”

This is by no means a complete list of all the top central bankers, European or otherwise, who have attended Bilderberg meetings in the past several years. It merely provides a glimpse into the decisions and actions taken by some of the top European technocrats responsible for managing the debt crisis; the adamantly pro-market ideologies they advocated; the institutions they led, and the troubling nature of their participation in secretive meetings with top financiers and political leaders at Bilderberg meetings. But there are more technocrats to consider on the subject of Europe’s debt crisis, and they will be the focus of future installments in this series.

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