Charlie Skelton | The Guardian | 8 June 2015
As one summit closes, another opens. Thursday sees the start of the influential Bilderberg policy conference, which this year is being held in Austria, just 16 miles south of the G7 summit, and in a similarly inaccessible luxury alpine resort. The participant list for the conference has just been released by the organisation, and some big names leap off the page.
No fewer than three serving European prime ministers will be attending, from the Netherlands, Finland and Belgium. They will be discussing “European strategy” with the head of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg, and the president of Austria, Heinz Fischer. Two European finance ministers are on the list: one Dutch, the other George Osborne. The UK chancellor is a regular attendee of the Bilderberg summit, and this year he will be showing off his post-election glow. Unlike that other Bilderberg regular, Ed Balls, who is being invited back despite having by some considerable distance the weakest job title on the list: “former shadow chancellor of the exchequer.
Europe’s hottest financial potato, Greece, is on the conference agenda, and it’s good to know Benoît Coeuré, a member of the executive board of the European Central Bank, will be there to discuss it in strictest privacy with interested parties, such as the heads of Deutsche Bank, Lazard, Banco Santander and HSBC.
The scandal-hit HSBC and everyone’s favourite vampire squid, Goldman Sachs, are both extremely well represented at this year’s conference. HSBC in particular by its chairman, its busy chief legal officer, and board member Rona Fairhead, who is also on the board of PepsiCo and chair of the BBC Trust. Good to know the BBC is in such safe hands.
Other financial luminaries on the list include the vice-chairman of BlackRock, the CEO of JP Morgan Asset Management and the president of the Royal Bank of Canada, which is the nation’s largest financial institution. Morgan Stanley will be represented in Telfs by board member Klaus Kleinfeld, who also runs the world’s third largest aluminium producer, Alcoa.
From the worlds of industry and manufacturing are some eye-wateringly big names. The CEO of Michelin is invited, along with the head of Roche, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, the chairman of BP, the CEO of Siemens Austria and the heads of various industrial conglomerates such as Techint and Investor AB, companies so large they’re hard to classify. Although “gigantic” goes some way towards it.
It’s a heady step up into the big league for Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair. He’ll doubtless be hoping to thrash out a few last-minute deals over dinner with the head of Airbus, Thomas Enders.
Apart from making holiday jets, Airbus is also one of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers, and the 2015 conference agenda has a distinct whiff of war. Chemical weapons threats and Nato are both set to be discussed. Luckily the head of Nato is there to discuss it.
As ever, foreign policy formation is a big part of the conference. Terrorism and Iran both make the agenda this year, and participants can expect a high-level briefing from senior US State Department official John R Allen, the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter Isil. And it’s likely that the subject of Russia will be of interest to the German defence minister and deputy defence minister, both of whom have found the time this week to be in Telfs. As has the head of the Danish intelligence service, who will likely have a part to play in the session of cybersecurity.
Finally, it’s worth noting the growing presence of Google at Bilderberg. The company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, is on the group’s steering committee; he’ll be joined in Austria by his vice-president for engineering, advanced technology and projects, and the vice-president of engineering for the not-at-all terrifying sounding Google DeepMind. They, presumably, will be leading the session on artificial intelligence. This will be listened to with great interest by Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and director of Facebook, as he continues his quest to merge with computers. But that’s another story.
For now, the story is: Bilderberg 2015 has an extremely high-powered participant list, featuring a large number of senior politicians and public figures. With participants this powerful, and an agenda containing this many hot topics, the Telfs policy conference is sure to be covered in depth by the world’s press. And by “sure to be”, I mean probably won’t be. For reasons that, as ever, escape me.