Saturday 5 June 2010


Bilderberg 2010: Plutocracy with palm trees

The shadowy global elite is meeting in Sitges ~ and Charlie Skelton is there, hoping for a new spirit of CamCleggian openness

This is the first dispatch from Charlie Skelton's Bilderblog. Read part two here.

Another year, another Bilderberg. The first "participants" (as the delegates are known) won't be arriving until Thursday, but already the Hotel Dolce in Sitges is buzzing with anticipation. This Catalan seaside town hasn't hosted an event as large and politically sensitive as Bilderberg since the legendary 2008 Foam Party at the Mr Gay Sitges awards night.

Last year, Bilderberg was held in Vouliagmeni, on the coast just south of Athens. The Greek minister of finance attended, the minister of foreign affairs, and the governor of the National Bank of Greece. A few months later, Greece was bankrupt and Athens was in flames. So … good luck, Madrid!

Police are already stretching their red stripy tape around the hotel, and zipping up and around the local roads in their squad cars, sniffing for trouble. I'm really hoping there's none to find. The Spanish are promising a beach party and an "awareness camp", with political discussion forums and meditation zones.

I plan to spend at least part of Friday sitting cross-legged in a campsite, sending beams of white light up the hill and into the hotel. Feel my love, Marcus Agius ~ Chairman of Barclays and senior non-executive director on the BBC's new executive board. Let it surround you, Queen Sofia of Spain. Don't fight it, president of the World Bank. You can't beat the love.

It would be nicer if the interface between Bilderberg and the world could be softer ~ if it could turn an open face towards us, rather than the barrel of a machine gun. What I'm hoping is that this year, in the all new CamCleggian spirit of openness and political transparency, any British elected official who attends the meeting ~ and I'm talking to you, Kenneth Clarke and George Osborne ~ will tell us they attended, tell us what they spoke about, and tell us what the next 12 months has in store. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Not that anyone is really asking. I've come along again this year because I had the horrible, nagging thought that no other journalists would.

Not that I'm a proper journalist. Hardly: consider me an interested citizen of the world come to bear witness to a peculiar, important, and unsettling event.

For a long and luxurious weekend at the Dolce Sitges, relishing its "new and creative buffet concepts" (a table with food on it), prime ministers will mingle with European royalty, with various EU commissioners, with representatives from Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, AIB, Deutsche Bank, Chase Manhattan and Royal Dutch Shell.

They'll clink glasses with President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke (he is confirmed for this year). And join the Friday night conga line behind the US treasury secretary (Tim Geithner went last year; he goes a lot). We can reasonably expect the head of the Federal Reserve, the president of the World Bank, the secretary general of Nato … they've all attended in the past and many will attend again. So yes, important it is; to think otherwise is painfully naive (see below for the usual "just a big boys' club" comments …)

The conference hotel may be perched above a golf course, and boast two ping pong tables, but this four-day event isn't about who is better at table tennis, Ken Clarke or David Rockefeller (it's Rockefeller). This is about big business, global financial strategy and the economic future of Europe ~ if indeed it has one.

And most importantly, this four-day event doesn't start until tomorrow ~ and continues all the way through the weekend ~ so if you're a PROPER journalist reading this, or a blogger, or simply a curious citizen of a Europe teetering on the edge, then come along. Please come. I'll buy you a Catalan beer. I recommend the Rosita. It's fruity but ballsy ~ not unlike the winner of Mr Gay Sitges 2008.

Bilderberg 2010: The security lockdown begins

It's midday at the Bilderberg conference hotel ~ and that means helicopters, riot police and angry staff

This is the second dispatch from Charlie Skelton's Bilderblog. Read part one here.

"Congratulations!" grinned the man in charge of this year's Bilderberg conference, mustering as much sarcasm as a Dutchman could muster.

"You are the last guests here! You should have a banner!" he whooped, punching the air, wanting us gone. It's true ~ we had been dragging our heels as we left the Hotel Dolce Sitges. The folding tables were already being set up in the courtyard for participant lanyards and orientation packs. It was well past the midday "lockdown" of the hotel.

"Lockdown" at Bilderberg means that security is snapped securely shut ~ it means an unbreachable, Pentagon-like security cordon is tightened around this seaside hotel.

It means that hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of police, in various states of riot readiness, position themselves at every junction, every roundabout, along every road, layby and dirt track within a mile of the building. And every 15 minutes or so, ruining everyone's poolside naps, police choppers circle in the perfect sky above.

The helicopters started yesterday. The day before, as we were checking in, a couple of tourists in microlights came buzzing over the hotel before buzzing off towards the beach. For about two seconds, I thought: "Brilliant! That's how we're going to get photos! From the air!" Then I thought: "CIA snipers! Not so brilliant!".

We've made do with a few sneaky shots around the hotel and some hushed chats with the barstaff. We did a little undercover work. And, as a result, we can confirm the following people will definitely be attending this year's Bilderberg conference in Sitges.

I can't tell you how I know this. Let's just say we 'obtained' this information. Step forward if you hear your name.

1. Marcus Agius: The chairman of Barclays and a senior non-executive director on the BBC's new executive board. Married to Katherine, daughter of Edmund Leopold de Rothschild (I don't know why I mention that. Just a bit of family trivia ~ the sort of thing some people find interesting).

2. Josef Ackermann: The CEO of Deutsche Bank and a non-executive director of Shell.

3. General Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the US army and on the board of the US defence conglomerate General Dynamics.

4. Juan Luis Cebrián Echarri: The CEO and co-founder of El Pais; the CEO of Grupo Prisa (Spain's biggest publisher); on the board of directors of Le Monde.

5. Richard Holbrooke: Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan and a member of the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations.

6. Gustavo A Cisneros Rendiles: A Venezuelan media mogul ~ one of the world's richest men.

7. Victor Halberstadt: Professor of public economics at Leiden University and international advisor to Goldman Sachs. President of the International Institute of Public Finance.

8. Roger Altman: The founder and chairman of Evercore Partners, "the most active investment banking boutique in the world" (their website says).

9. Joaquín Almunia: Senior Spanish member of the European commission.

10. W. Edmund Clark: President and CEO of the TD Bank Financial Group.

11. Jan H.M. Hommen: Chairman of the ING Group.

12. Jyrki Katainen: Minster of finance in Finland, chairman of the Finnish National Coalition party.

And they're just the tip of the Bilderberg. More names will emerge as the weekend progresses, and the long-lens snaps have started coming in. The police have started pushing us further from the roundabouts. We've had the first detentions and the first angry deletions of photographs by police.

Although quite why attending Bilderberg has to remain such a mystery remains a mystery. The blackened windows of the limousines, the desperate camera-dodging of the delegates.

Tony Blair attended in 1993, but lied about it in parliament. Why lie? Why hide? If it's a long weekend of ping-pong, why the secrecy? If it's a long weekend of global strategising, why not simply behave like adults and talk to the press about it?

The paranoia was riding high amongst the conference organizers. A pair of them talked about the 2006 Bilderberg conference in Ottawa, where the radio host Alex Jones led the protests with his megaphone.

"They were very close to the hotel," said one.

Another looked shocked and asked: "Did they ever try to attack?"

A shake of the head and the answer: "No, but it was very scary."

A third leaned in: "This is the negative side of the welfare state. People have enough income, so they can do this ~ it's like a permanent threat."

What threat? That people concerned about the unfairness of the world should drape a banner over a police cordon? That they should shout their anger at the madness of asset-grabbing transnational corporations, whose chairmen are sipping beers with our elected officials? "It's like a permanent threat." Don't make me spit.

My wife, Hannah, felt the hard edge of paranoia as we left the hotel at lockdown. She decided she needed to do some last-minute printing (she suddenly felt the urge to print out a history of Sitges from the Internet).

The concierge ushered her into the business centre, where she found herself in the middle of pulsing heart of Bilderberg. She sat down to print. She was spotted. A stern Dutch lady shouted coldly: "Take her to security!" and barked: "What is your name?"

Startled, Hannah remarked: "This isn't a very friendly hotel." The lady replied: "No, it's not a very friendly hotel." Not this week it isn't.

As we left finally left the unfriendly Dolce Sitges, as the plainclothes police gathered, a pallet of watermelons was being rolled into the service entrance alongside a lighting rig. The patio lights had been covered with orange cellophane.

It's going to be quite a show later, the opening night of Bilderberg ~ watermelons everywhere, greedy eyes glowing orange on the dancefloor.

"More watermelons!" shouts the CEO of Deutsche Bank. Twenty are rolled towards him in an instant. He stamps upon the first and hoots his joy into the orange air, as the DJ leans into the microphone: "And we have a request from Mr Kenneth Clarke, it's Another One Bites the Dust!"

A happy Ken tosses his cigar over his shoulder and takes to the disco floor. Not that Ken's been confirmed yet. He's probably relaxing in his constituency. Maybe someone should find out.

On Tuesday night, when we were at the bar working our way through their selection of Catalan beers, we asked the barman how big he reckoned the Bilderbergers' hotel bill would be.

He rolled his eyes and said: "You don't want to know how much they're paying for this!" He misunderstood. I really did.

If the cost of dinner at the Dolce is anything to go by, it'll be a whacking great tab. My advice to David Rockefeller ~ avoid the 'award winning' trout fillets. If you're hungry, try the black spaghetti with salmon meatballs to start.

What else…?

My top tips for Bilderberg 2010 participants:

The gazpacho is good but thin.

The righthand of the two ping-pong tables (if you're standing with your back to the sun loungers) has a tricky camber. Better go for the left-hander.

If you're on a budget, go to breakfast at 7am, then go again at half 10, so you can get breakfast and lunch out of the same buffet.

Don't drink the tidewater in the bedrooms. It's got more chlorine in it than the swimming pool.

The kiwifruit breakfast pastries are to die for.

The artichoke soup needs black pepper.

Go to the spa, have an Ayurvedic massage, and during it repeat the mantra: "It's ok if I don't own everything, it's ok if I don't own everything." Then get drunk and throw bread rolls at the stripper.

The staff are Catalan, not Spanish. Apart from the Argentinian bellhop. He's Argentinian.

Cancel three-quarters of your police protection. You don't need them, and they're costing other people money.

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