Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Power of the Finance Ministry
by Andrew Gavin Marshall, OCCUPY
Throughout the course of the financial and debt crises in Europe, politicians played a supporting role to financial markets and financial technocrats – that is, the economists, academics, central bankers, finance ministers and heads of international organizations who articulate the interests of powerful financial and social groups in the technocratic language of “expertise,” and who enact policies, create and shape major institutions, and whose decisions affect the lives of hundreds of millions, even billions, of people.
A number of the world’s top technocrats between 2008 and 2014 have been members or guests of Bilderberg meetings. Most especially, European technocrats have been highly represented within the membership, and were among the most influential players throughout Europe’s financial and debt crises. This article examines the technocratic institution of the “Finance Ministry,” specifically as it relates to the European debt crisis and the Bilderberg Group.
The Ministry of Finance
Finance ministers and ministries have truly immense power in the modern world. They manage the finances – money and debt – and budgets of states, and are responsible for the allocation of funding to governments, their departments, and their policies. Depending on an individual nation’s power and governance system, finance ministries can often wield influence that dwarfs other top government officials, and occasionally even presidents and prime ministers. They are pivotal determining domestic and foreign policy, and most responsible for designing and implementing financial and economic policy.
The wealthier a nation, the more important its finance ministry, and the more powerful are its officials. In the United States, it’s the Treasury Department and its secretary; in the U.K. it’s the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; in most European nations, and in Japan, it’s simply the Finance Minister.
In January of 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with the leaders of France, Britain and West Germany. The New York Times noted that Carter was the only leader in the group who had not previously served as a finance minister. The paper’s Frank Vogl wrote: “More former finance ministers are now occupying the top political offices in the leading industrial nations than ever,” with the addition of Japan’s new prime minister, Masayoshi Ohira. The leaders knew each other well, having spent years interacting at major conferences and coordinating policies as finance ministers before taking the top political spots. Collectively, they are key officials of “global economic leadership.”
The role of finance ministers in global economic leadership has only expanded in subsequent decades. They meet, discuss and coordinate global policies alongside central bankers at the G7, G8 and G20 meetings. The also hold shares in and are represented on the boards of international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which manages the finances and economic policies of dozens of countries around the world.
Europe in Crisis
Europe’s finance ministers were pivotal in the management of the European debt crisis. These technocrats shaped the financial policies of powerful nations and international organizations, coordinated with central banks, created new transnational institutions, and pushed policies that have had profound effects upon the future of the European Union and the 500 million people who live within it. Many of the most influential finance ministers in Europe were also frequent participants in Bilderberg meetings over the period of time from the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 and throughout the debt crisis until 2014.
Throughout the course of the European debt crisis, Germany was joined by what the Financial Times called “its two closest allies in the Eurozone,” the Netherlands and Finland, who shared the German hardline demands of austerity and structural reforms for countries in crisis. Together, the central banks and finance ministries of these three nations frequently coordinated actions and objectives.
The three countries were among the major creditors to the crisis-hit debtor nations, and thus their united response to the crisis guaranteed that they would be the most influential national bloc within the E.U. This gave them a great deal of leverage in shaping the policies of other major technocratic institutions, like the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC).
In 2008, the Financial Times ranked Finland’s Jyrki Katainen as the top finance minister in Europe, describing him as “part of a new wave of youthful center-right European leaders,” and one who could possibly become the future Finnish prime minister. In 2010, Katainen was again ranked on the top ten list of the best finance ministers in Europe, as determined by a group of judges who were mainly chief economists from major banks.
The Financial Times noted that Katainen, who had served as minister since 2007, led Finland “through its deepest recession since independence from Russia in 1917,” and that he was “a chief ally of Germany in the push for tougher European Union fiscal rules.” Katainen had attended Bilderberg meetings in both 2009 and 2010.
The following year, in 2011, Katainen took the top job as Prime Minister of Finland, forming a coalition government in which he appointed one of the opposition party leaders, Jutta Urpilainen, as the Finance Minister, the first woman to hold the post. The Financial Times noted that Urpilainen was “likely to take a tough stance on Eurozone policy,” committing herself and the government “to helping create a more stable Eurozone.”
In May of 2012, the Financial Times wrote that previously as finance minister and presently as prime minister, Jyrki Katainen had taken Finland on “a hard line over matters such as the Greek bailout and austerity, often exceeding the position even of Germany.” As part of this “hard line” abroad, Finland also employed it at home, with Katainen overseeing the implementation of successive austerity measures. In 2013, while Finland was entering its third recession since the financial crisis began – all under Katainen’s watch – the prime minister announced further budget cuts.
Finland’s hard line from 2011 on was pushed by its finance minister Jutta Urpilainen, “who took a more demanding position on the crisis.” Urpilainen attended Bilderberg meetings in 2012 and 2013. In 2011, the Financial Times ranked Urpilainen on the list of top ten European finance ministers, noting that she “demanded ailing fellow Eurozone economies provide collateral in return for aid… earning herself a reputation in Brussels as stubborn.”
She again earned a top ten spot in 2012, with the Financial Times commenting that she had “taken one of the toughest approaches on bailouts among her European counterparts,” and in doing so had “caused tension with her predecessor, Kyrki Katainen,” then serving as prime minister.
In the midst of the eruption of the Greek debt crisis in 2010, the Greek Finance Minister, George Papaconstantinou, who was responsible for negotiating the E.U. bailout, attended that year’s Bilderberg meeting. That same year, the Financial Times gave him a top ten ranking, noting that he had “stayed cool while negotiating harsh fiscal and structural reforms with the European Union and [IMF],” and that he cut the budget deficit “by a national record.” This, of course, had extremely negative consequences for the population of Greece.
In the midst of Italy’s exploding debt crisis in 2011, its finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, attended that year’s Bilderberg meeting having also earned himself a top ten ranking in 2009. A former Italian finance minister, Tomasso Padoa-Schioppa, had also attended Bilderberg meetings between 2008 and 2010.
In 2013, the Bilderberg meeting was attended by Bjarne Corydon, the Danish finance minister, as well as Anders Borg, the Swedish finance minister. Anders Borg ranked among the top ten finance ministers in all of the Financial Times surveys between 2008 and 2012, including holding the number one and number two ranking for 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2010, the Financial Times noted that “Borg has had a good crisis,” as he “established himself as one of Europe’s most authoritative economic voices, and his reputation has been enhanced by Sweden’s rapid recovery from recession.”
In 2011, the Financial Times wrote that Borg, a former banker who had served as Swedish finance minister since 2005, “is a master at blending erudition with popular appeal,” noting that his criticism of bank bonuses “won voters’ hearts while his devotion to fiscal discipline [austerity] and sound public finances has endeared him to the markets.” Borg carries heavy weight in Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, earning a reputation as “the wizard behind one of Europe’s best-performing economies.”
Shortly after the democratically-elected governments of Greece and Italy were replaced with bankers and economists in a technocratic coup in November of 2011, the Financial Times reported that “Sweden has, in effect, had an unelected technocrat running its public finances for the past six years.” That technocrat, Anders Borg, previously “worked as a bank economist in the private sector and as an adviser to both Sweden’s central bank and the country’s Moderate party.”
Throughout the European debt crisis, meetings of the Eurogroup, composed of the finance ministers of the 17-member states of the single currency, played a key role doing “the heavy lifting on the bloc’s economic policy, from banking reforms to bailouts.” The “Troika” that was formed to manage the debt crisis – composed of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund – would report directly to the Eurogroup of finance ministers on all important decisions related to the bailouts and austerity packages.
Finance ministers, together with Europe’s central bankers and other technocrats leading major EU and international organizations, were key to shaping the response and policies of the financial and debt crisis. At Bilderberg meetings, all of these officials were able to gather together, alongside captains of industry and top financiers, to discuss Europe’s problems and coordinate responses.