The world’s water-coolers | Where the influential people meet and talk
“YOU can do nothing against a conspiracy theory,” sighs Etienne Davignon.
He sits in a lofty office with a stupendous view over Brussels, puffing his pipe. He is an aristocrat, a former vice-president of the European Commission and a man who has sat on several corporate boards, but that is not why some people consider him too powerful. He presides over the Bilderberg group, an evil conspiracy bent on world domination. At least, that is what numerous websites allege; also that it has ties to al-Qaeda, is hiding the cure for cancer and wishes to merge the United States with Mexico.
In reality, Bilderberg is an annual conference for a few dozen of the world’s most influential people. Last year Bill Gates and Larry Summers hobnobbed with the chairman of Deutsche Bank, the boss of Shell, the head of the World Food Programme and the prime minister of Spain. One or two journalists are invited each year, on condition that they abstain from writing about it. (Full disclosure: the editor of The Economist sometimes attends.)
Because the meetings are off the record, they are catnip to conspiracy theorists. But the attraction for participants is obvious. They can speak candidly, says Mr Davignon, without worrying how their words might play in tomorrow’s headlines. So they find out what other influential people really think. Big ideas are debated frankly. Mr Davignon credits the meetings for helping to lay the groundwork for creating the euro. He recalls strong disagreement over Iraq: some participants favoured the invasion in 2003, some opposed it and some wanted it done differently. Last year the debate was about Europe’s fiscal problems, and whether the euro would survive.