Industry leaders from around the globe, heads of government and leaders of organizations such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization gathered over the weekend in Chantilly, Virginia for the 60th edition of the fabled Bilderberg conference on finance and foreign affairs. The list of participants reads like a global who's who of the rich and powerful. Outgoing Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann was there, as was Shell CEO Peter Voser, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann.
Jürgen Trittin, co-floor leader of the Green Party in German parliament, was also in attendance.
Now Trittin has found himself having to defend his participation after many people asked what a Green Party leader -- one who represents the left wing of his party, no less -- was doing at the secretive annual gathering. The politician, who is perhaps best known internationally for his controversial 2005 comments on Hurricane Katrina while environment minister, has been the subject of a flood of criticism since his return from the US.
An Informal World Government?
The German business news magazine Wirtschaftswoche has described the Bilderberg conference, which takes place at a different location each year, as "the most admired circle of power." Critics of globalization, including many Green Party supporters, would rather describe it as the most dangerous circle of power. For them, the exclusive, invitation-only meetings, named after the Hotel de Bilderberg where the first conference was held in 1954, represent a kind of informal, non-democratic world government.
According to the Bilderberg website, "the meeting is private in order to encourage frank and open discussion." But the fact that the media is excluded from the meetings has encouraged the proliferation of conspiracy theories. For many people on both extremes of the political spectrum, Bilderberg represents a kind of secret society which meets to make deals on issues of global importance. Some even see it as an attempt to create a totalitarian world government, dubbed a "new world order."
Among the protesters at the 2012 conference, which took place from May 31 to June 3, were Ron Paul supporters, Occupy activists, members of the 9/11 Truth movement and Oath Keepers, a group of military and law enforcement officers who have sworn to uphold the US constitution, according to The Guardian. Radio show host Alex Jones, who runs the Infowars.com website, was one of the most prominent protesters.
Unfortunately for Green Party politician Trittin, many of his own supporters subscribe to the Bilderberg conspiracy theories. Since his return from his US trip, Trittin has faced a wave of incomprehension and skeptical questions. Some people object to the fact that Trittin did not announce in advance that he would take part in the Bilderberg conference. Trittin's spokesman had announced all the politician's important meetings for his US trip, including a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but failed to mention Bilderberg. Conspiracy theorists see that omission as evidence of the sinister nature of the event.
Criticism has been arriving at Trittin's office in the form of emails, letters and telephone calls. Other skeptics have let off steam on his Facebook page. "I find it unbelievable -- a Green politician schmoozing with the financial elite," wrote one commentator. "I would be very interested in finding out what a Green is doing with such a 'club,'" wrote another. Trittin's appearance at the conference has also been sharply attacked on other Internet forums and websites, which even include a photograph purporting to show the Green politician arriving at the Chantilly event in a sedan with tinted windows.
According to sources close to Trittin, the Green Party floor leader already knew what kind of reaction his participation at Bilderberg would provoke. But he is likely to have been surprised by the vehemence of the criticism.
Now Trittin has gone on the offensive, published a Q&A on his website addressing his participation at the conference, in reaction to what he describes as "a series of questions about the conference and my participation in it."
Like Any Other Conference
In the Q&A, he explains that he was invited to take part by Matthias Nass, international correspondent for the respected German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, and that he covered the expenses himself. "Current issues such as trans-Atlantic relations, the current EU debt crisis, questions of international energy policy and cyber-security" were discussed at the conference, he writes, adding that he took exactly the same positions as he would anywhere else. He writes that he called for "a move away from one-sided austerity in Europe" as well as for a tax on financial transactions and an asset tax to force the wealthy to bear part of the costs of the crisis.
Conspiracy theorists may be disappointed to read Trittin's description of Bilderberg as a banal get-together. "My impression was that it differed little from many other conferences where managers, academics and politicians meet," he writes. He sees no problem with the fact that it takes place in secret.
He defended himself against criticism of his participation, saying it was "wrong" to impose bans on who one should meet with. "It's not about who I meet, but what I tell them," he writes. "Green convictions have to be communicated precisely in places where they are not yet actively represented."
'I Wouldn't Have Gone'
Trittin received support from Sven Giegold, a Green member of the European Parliament and one of the party's staunchest globalization critics. "I oppose the logic of banning contact" with certain people, Giegold says. "One should always accept invitations, as long as they are not from mass murderers, war criminals, right-wing extremists or anti-Semites." But Giegold, a former leader of the German chapter of the globalization-critical group Attac, also called for "maximum transparency" when it comes to attending events such as the Bilderberg conference -- an implicit criticism of Trittin.
One prominent Green Party politician from the party's left wing showed less sympathy for Trittin's attendance at the conference. "I wouldn't have gone there myself," said Hans-Christian Ströbele, a veteran Bundestag member known for his outspoken views on civil rights. Ströbele has long been skeptical of the Bilderberg Group. In 2005, he even submitted a parliamentary question when Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in the conference.
Tritten is not, however, the first Green Party politician to take part in Bilderberg. Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer attended the conference in 2008. That was, however, after Fischer had already retired from active politics.