Bilderberg Group and Europe’s Technocrat Titans
by Andrew Gavin Marshall, OCCUPY
This is the tenth installment in a series examining the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth parts in the series.
I previously examined the functions of the Bilderberg meetings; the composition and concentration of financial markets and the Mafiocracy that rules them; the nature of technocracy, and the role of finance ministers, central banks and the IMF in managing the European debt crisis. This installment takes a closer look at the top technocrats of the European Council and the European Commission.
The “Troika” of the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Commission (EC) was largely tasked with managing the response to the debt crisis, organizing bailouts, imposing austerity and saving the banks at the expense of the populations of Europe. The Troika reported to the Eurogroup of 17 finance ministers who represented all of the countries that used the euro as their single common currency.
The European Union project evolved and expanded over decades since the end of World War II, and always with an elite-driven, technocratic structure. As the E.U. moves through the debt crisis, its solutions and actions invariably delegate more authority to both existing and new technocratic institutions that wield immense power over nation-states within the E.U. Sovereignty is increasingly transferred from the nation and its democratically elected leaders to the supra-national technocratic structure of the E.U., and the top bureaucrats and technicians who run it.
The European Council and the European Commission are the major centers of power within the E.U.’s political structure. The European Central Bank is equally if not more powerful, but it doesn’t answer to any political authority since it’s considered to be “independent” (aka exclusively in the service of private interests). The European Council groups together the heads of state (presidents and prime ministers) of all E.U. nations, comprising the supreme governing authority of the E.U. The Council is presided over by a permanent president. Over the course of the European debt crisis, that president was Herman Van Rompuy.
Herman Van Rompuy
Herman Van Rompuy was a prominent Belgian technocrat and politician. Trained as an economist, Van Rompuy worked for Belgium’s central bank from 1972 to 1975, thereafter going into politics where he rose through the ranks to become a budget minister in the 1990s. When Van Rompuy was asked by Belgian King Albert to form a coalition government in December of 2008, Van Rompuy became Belgium’s Prime Minister, described by Reuters at the time as “a budgetary hardliner.”
As European leaders were attempting to negotiate and horse-trade to fill key appointments in the EU apparatus in late 2009, Van Rompuy was considered a “dark horse” to occupy the first-ever permanent president of the European Council. Van Rompuy was relatively unknown outside Belgium and had only been the country’s Prime Minister for 11 months when he got the top job in the E.U.
Roughly a week before European leaders announced him as their selection, Van Rompuy attended a private dinner with members of the Bilderberg steering committee on Nov. 12, 2009. Van Rompuy was invited to the dinner by then-chairman of the Bilderberg meetings, Etienne Davignon, a former top E.U. technocrat, in order “to promote his candidacy” for the top job. At the dinner, which was attended by top industrialists, financiers and even war criminals like Henry Kissinger, Van Rompuy was able to impress the group with a speech and engage in “off-the-record” talks with the unelected oligarchs. At the dinner meeting, Van Rompuy reportedly raised the issue of E.U. financing, suggesting that a continental E.U. tax could even be envisioned.
Seven days later, Van Rompuy was announced as the final choice for president of the European Council. According to The New York Times, Van Rompuy’s selection was seen as the “result of backroom negotiations among [E.U.] leaders jockeying for future and more important economic portfolios that could be more powerful in the enlarged European Union” – in some ways a similar method as how the Chinese choose who sits in the top political positions of authority within the Communist Party and State.
The Financial Times celebrated the appointment of Van Rompuy to the top spot, noting that “the art of Belgian political leadership consists of bringing consensus to a broad and fractious coalition,” which is “exactly what the president of the European Council will have to do.” As the prime minister of Belgium, the paper wrote, Van Rompuy had “demonstrated an ability to bring a laser-sharp focus to a complicated political process.”
Together with the President of the European Commission, the ECB and the Eurogroup of finance ministers, Van Rompuy indeed played an important role in the management of Europe’s debt crisis. After attending the Bilderberg steering committee meeting in 2009, just prior to getting Europe’s top job, he later attended a Bilderberg meeting in 2011 while sitting as president of the European Council.
José Manuel Barroso
José Manuel Barroso finished his second term as President of the European Commission in late 2014, after serving in that post for the previous ten years. Prior to that, he served as prime minister of Portugal from 2002 to 2004. Barroso has attended numerous Bilderberg meetings: in 1994, 2003, 2005 and 2013. On top of that, Barroso has attended meetings of the Trilateral Commission, including the one that took place in Portugal in 2003 while Barroso was prime minister. He also attended the Commission’s annual meeting in 2007 that took place in Brussels while he was the European Commission president.
Barroso courted controversy in 2003 when he became one of only a few European heads of state to support George W. Bush’s “with us or against us” war on Iraq. His position put him in good standing with the U.K. and Italy, yet he also managed to maintain good ties with France and Germany, making him an effective choice to head the EC. Barroso was at the same time, however, “unpopular at home,” noted the BBC, because he implemented “an austerity program to reduce the country’s budget deficit.” But for European leaders, the fact that Barroso was able to hold together a political coalition of opposing parties “while driving through the unpopular reforms” made him an ideal candidate to function as “a consensus politician.”
The Economist reflected on Barroso’s short time as prime minister, noting the austerity program and commenting that he “has done a good job of running Portugal.” Barroso was chosen for one of the top spots in the E.U., overseeing the vast bureaucracy of the European Commission, through a series of “backroom deals, in which various other juicy EU jobs that are up for grabs are shared around.” Those who backed Barroso were doing so under the presumption that he would “hold his liberal economic line.”
A few months into his first term, in early 2005, the Financial Times reported that Barroso had “laid out pro-business plans to revive Europe’s economy,” which Britain’s E.U. Trade Commissioner Peter Madelson described as “proposing a program for Europe that we would describe as ‘New Labour’ in Britain,” and adding that “we are seeing the best chance in a decade to restore authority to the European Commission.” Apart from not giving business interests everything they wanted, the FT conceded that in many areas, “Barroso’s agenda is unashamedly pro-business,” including “a new drive for lighter regulation.”
Barroso’s program “put pressure on countries to make labour markets more flexible and cut back on welfare spending,” noted The New York Times. As people across Europe expressed fear that Barroso was “about to pursue an excessively liberal economic agenda,” Barroso began attempting to please his critics, speaking to trade unionists and declaring his intention to “fight against poverty,” stating that Europe would “maintain and reform our European social model.” That public relations campaign in turn worried business and financial interests, so the Commission president launched “a concerted campaign to attempt to show he remains firmly committed to pro-business economic reforms.”
A couple of weeks later, Barroso delivered a speech at the Spring meeting of the Institute of International Finance (IIF), whose membership is composed of top executives from hundreds of the world’s largest banks and financial institutions. Barroso began his speech noting that “your association has achieved a lot in the last two decades,” and continued:
“It has acted as an important market place for ideas [and] has provided a clear and influential voice for change in the fields of finance, economics and governance.” The world’s “stable financial order” was, Barroso declared, “in no small part thanks to the contribution of this institute.”
Barroso explained his understanding of the global economy to his esteemed audience, noting that the rapid growth in “emerging markets” was increasing global wealth, but also increasing competition for that wealth with countries like China and India able to better exploit cheap labor while the U.S. with its high-tech boom was leaving Europe behind.
“The status quo is no longer an option for the E.U.,” Barroso continued. The E.U. must change “in order for Europe to fully reap the benefits of ongoing globalization,” and the continent had to “increase the flexibility of markets” and strengthen its “productivity.” Translation: deregulate all markets, dismantle labor rights and protections, reduce living standards so as to create a cheaper labor force capable of competing with Asia, and increase finance for research and development to spur high-tech growth. Among the major “priorities” were making workers “more adaptable and labour markets more flexible.” No doubt, Barroso’s audience of bankers and financiers agreed with him.
It should be noted that the top leadership of the IIF are frequently Bilderberg members and participants, and that other speakers invited to the IIF’s Spring meeting included “senior government officials from Brazil, Chile, China, Slovakia, Spain and the U.K.,” as well as “leading international economists,” the managing director of the IMF, and the former president of Mexico.
In 2007, Barroso publicly commented on the unique nature of the European Union, referring to it as “the first non-imperial empire,” and explaining: “We are a very special construction unique in the history of mankind… Sometimes I like to compare the E.U. as a creation to the organization of empire. We have the dimension of empire.”
Barroso became a globally influential official in the spring of 2009, as the world grappled with the repercussions of the financial crisis and the heads of central banks, finance ministries, international organizations and leaders of the Group of 20 met to reshape the global financial and economic order. The focus at the 2009 meeting was to design “the future of financial regulation.” The Telegraph noted at the meeting that “Barroso and his team have had a quiet but immensely influential role in the whole process,” as many of the words and phrases adopted in the G20’s final communiqué were drafted in Barroso’s Commission office, which had drafted an earlier report on the subject. Barroso declared that “we need open, competitive, market economies… with effective regulation and supervision.” To accomplish this, “strong international institutions” (like his) were needed as well as “corporate governance,” a global reflection of today’s “economic culture of Europe.”
The next and final installment in the series examines Barroso’s continued role, and the role of the European Commission, from 2009 onwards.