World Economy

Bilderberg conference: Spies, CEOs and politicians gather


It's a guest list that most conference organizers can only dream of, with attendees ranging from royalty to business leaders, spies to politicians.

But this isn't any conference – this is the Bilderberg conference, a top-secret annual gathering attracting the richest and most powerful people from across the globe.

Attendees at this year's Bilderberg meeting, which kicks off in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Thursday, include Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Christine Lagarde
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NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will also be in attendance, along with American diplomat Henry Kissinger and ECB Executive Board Member Benoît Coeuré.

One of the main draws of the conference, which was founded in 1954, is the high level of secrecy – despite the fact that a number of journalists are invited.

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This is because meetings take place under what's known as "Chatham House Rules," meaning that people can use the information received, but can't reveal the identity or affiliation of the speaker.

"Thanks to the private nature of the conference, the participants are not bound by the conventions of their office or by pre-agreed positions," the Bilderberg Meetings website said. "As such, they can take time to listen, reflect and gather insights."

The level of secrecy is particularly interesting this year, as one of the topics up for discussion is: "does privacy exist?". On this issue, the thoughts of the former director of the National Security Agency, Keith Alexander, and the head of the U.K.'s Secret Intelligence Service - or MI6 - John Sawers, are likely to be highly sought after.

Big business names at this year's event include Klaus Kleinfeld, chairman and CEO of Alcoa, Reid Hoffman, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, and BP CEO Bob Dudley. From the world of finance, HSBC Chairman Douglas Flint and Chairman and CEO of Lazard, Kenneth M. Jacobs, will be in attendance.

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Around a third of the guests at the Bilderberg conference – originally designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America – are politicians. Those due to attend this year include U.K. Chancellor George Osborne, Britain's Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, and German Labor Minister Jörg Asmussen.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the top-caliber guests in attendance, even the royals can't stay away, with the Queen of Spain and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands also expected to make an appearance at this year's gathering.