29/09/2005. Contributed by Jessica Martin
Secrets of the the Bilderberg Group - the shadowy gathering of top Western politicians, business leaders, bankers and others that meets behind closed doors once a year to discuss world events - have been revealed in an exclusive BBC interview with its chairman.
Etienne Davignon, 73 - a former Belgian diplomat and European Commissioner and now businessman - dismissed claims that the Bilderberg Group is part of a global consipiracy to rule the world by a self-selected elite of movers and shakers.
"When people say this is a secret government of the world, I say that if we were a secret government of the world we should be bloody ashamed of ourselves," he tells Bill Hayton in a rare interview, to be broadcast on 29 September as part of the Who Runs Your World? season extending across BBC World Service, BBC World television and online.
"I don't think (we are) a global ruling class because I don't think a global ruling class exists. I simply think it's people who have influence interested to speak to other people who have influence.
"Bilderberg does not try to reach conclusions - it does not try to say 'What we should do'... everyone goes away with their own feeling and that allows the debate to be completely open, quite frank - and to see what the differences are. Business influences society and politics influences society - that's purely common sense. It's not that business contests the right of democratically-elected leaders to lead."
Asked about the secrecy surrounding the Group, he said: "Two reasons why it's not an open discusson - we want it to be free and we want people to speak for the topic, not for outside. And as there are no conclusions, we can't publish them."
On allegations of a conspiracy, he added: "It is unavoidable and it doesn't matter. There will always be people who believe in conspiracies: things happen in a much more incoherent fashion."
So what is the point of Bilderberg in a chaotic world? "To be as useful as one can. It's a modest agenda."
Asked if the Group ever reached general agreement on issues, Davignon said: "Not really - the problems we deal with are of a general nature and don't adjust to simple answers.
"What can come out is that it's not wrong to try to deal with a problem and that you should go home and encourage people not to leave the problem on the table. But a real consensus, an action plan with a one, two, three? The answer is no. People are much too sensible to believe they can do that."
Lifting the veil of secrecy around deciding what is discussed and who is invited to attend Bilderberg meetings, he said: "There are no permanent members - but a small steering committee tries to decide issues of joint interest to Europeans and Americans.
"And we have to have enough people who have never been to Bilderberg before so you keep a momentum and not simply have an old boys' club - and enough people who have been before who understand the format: that you speak shortly, you speak your mind and that nothing will ever be quoted.
"You (also) try to look at people who would be interested (in attending) in relation to their own ambition to share thoughts with others. And then, by happy accident, you invite people who go to great places - but then you also invite people who go nowhere."
Asked for examples of how a discussion at Bilderberg had helped end a blockage on an international issue, Davignon said that over Iraq, "Relations between some European countries were not the best in the world - (but) the fact that the business community felt they would not be distracted from their long-term strategy in relation to this was a useful element.
"In other words, you don't translate a quarrel on point 'A' into an across-the-line relationship."
The interview can be heard on 29th September 2005 as part of the Who Runs Your World? season which extends across all 43 language services of BBC World Service, BBC World television and online.
The two-week season (ending on 3rd October 2005) aims to challenge, inform and create a global forum for debate among the 190 million people who use the BBC's international news services on radio, television and online every week.
The Bilderberg Group takes its name from the Bilderberg Hotel in Amsterdam, where it first met in 1954 with the aim of "furthering understanding" between Europe and the United States. It now meets once a year - usually at various plush locations in Europe. A steering committee devises a selected invitation list of around 120 names of 'movers and shakers' (including politicians, business people, bankers and media proprietors).
The agenda is made public, but those attending agree not to reveal what was discussed.
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