Over the past several weeks two informal groups of (mainly) men convened in Fermanagh and Hertfordshire to discuss amongst other things; advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance, promoting greater transparency, Nationalism and populism, US foreign policy, Africa’s challenges, the US and European economies, cyber-warfare and the proliferation of asymmetric threats, as well as the politics of the European Union and the Middle East. All contemporary issues of great import, all central to relations across the globe over the next decade, all necessary debates that must be undertaken, some with great urgency.
Bilderberg an entirely private body, chaired by Henri de Castries, Chair and CEO of AXA Group meets yearly. With representatives from the major global companies including Deutshe Group, Goldman Sachs, Hoover, Michelin, Royal Dutch, Evercore, Heineken, Novartis, representatives of Governments and Parliament from amongst others, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, the US, Turkey as well as France, and educational bodies such as Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, Kings London and Leiden, the traditionally extremely secretive event rivals Davos (The World Economic Forum) as the most important gathering of global economic leaders. The G8 on the other hand, is made up of eight states; Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, USA and UK. These states hold four out the five permanent seats on the Security Council, the US holds the veto at the IMF and World Bank while the others combined entirely control their operation suggesting already high levels of control over these inter-governmental organisations. Which might make one think that they might use the decision-making infrastructures of these organisations, but in reality, for convenience it would appear, they by-pass all. Both Bilderberg and the G8 are self-selecting, entirely private and while the Bilderberg group does not issue communiqués or declarations as the G8 does, both hold significant sway over both economic and political global policy.
Obvious critiques of jamborees such as Davos and Bilderberg include the mendacious character of global economic power being invested with legitimacy by both governmental and media attendance and attention at these yearly meetings. Further, the complete lack of transparency and the worthlessness of actual knowledge regarding how much decision-making power and influence they, in reality, maintain, a point which stokes both conspiracy and controversy, sets-up an influential, though completely unanswerable, pair of bodies. Over the past decade both the media and various Governments have courted these events, setting up camp alongside these global companies and presenting the meetings as holding much influence, often without consideration of the implications of such, over economic and political policy. While obviously media coverage should be welcomed as highlighting the fact these events even take place. Yet, too often, the coverage adds only to the mystique and glamour of these meetings without serious questions on the entirely undemocratic character of money holding such influence being raised.
The G8 is another beast altogether. As lovely as Lough Erne looks on global screens (including mocking up shops to look busy rather than revealing the extent of the effect of the downturn on Northern Ireland’s economy) Washington D.C. the home of both the IMF and the World Bank, Geneva the site of the WTO, or indeed New York the home of the UN, surely should suffice as ready-made venues, dare it be said, already paid for, for debates on the topics set out before the G8 summit. But, clearly the G8 would rather discuss global policy without the messiness of other states’ involvement. The democratic deficit within international law has been much debated but self-selecting groups such as the G8 or its counterpart the G20 only serves to further alienate those who claim that while universal membership is almost present in the key global organisations, actual decision-making really still stands in the hands of the West. Whilst China, Brazil and India are emergent powers, the actual decision-making lies elsewhere. Side-stepping formal bodies, formed after much deliberation and debate is fast becoming the modus operandi. Particularly in the case of the IMF where decisions are often made at G8 and G20 Summits on its behalf, or the UN, where the steps for peace in Syria were discussed in Fermanagh, serves to set out to pasture, these inter-governmental bodies. Bodies, which for all their institutional failures, at the very least, allow all states to be present and to speak. Yet, there appears to be little outcry or debate, informality and boy’s clubs appear to be easy straightforward bodies, where everyone agrees in an avuncular manner what is best for the rest of the world. The growth in number and influence of informal points of global decision-making must become a point of concern.