Western elites are struggling to find common ground between the United States and Europe on matters related to China and trade, yet they have a broad consensus on a pressing defense issue — Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system is damaging to NATO, and if completed, sanctions against Ankara are imminent — according to a surprise Turkish-language BBC report detailing discussions that took place last week at the secretive Bilderberg conference.
Another key takeaway from the Bilderberg group’s conference held last weekend in Montreux, Switzerland is that elites are concerned about what another financial crisis would do to the vulnerable European Union. Western elites see economic growth as a useful tool in their battle against populism and nationalism, but in the case that the European economy were to spiral into a new crisis, they are not confident they would be able to get out of it with the union intact, the report suggests.
What is Bilderberg?
The Bilderberg Group is a secretive organization comprised of elites from Europe and North America. The organization’s annual meetings draw influential people from industry, finance, politics, media, academia and other sectors. Last week in Switzerland, participants included former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, current U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Nato chief Jens Stoletenberg, the king of the Netherlands and top executives of banks and multinational companies.
Bilderberg meeting participants are required to abide by Chatham House rules, i.e. you can’t disclose who said what, and normally they reveal little, if anything, that is discussed during the conference. Journalists who attend Bilderberg conferences do not report on the gatherings, and reporters on the outside face frequent harassment.
Yet in an unexpected development, one of this year’s participants, Turkish professor and former Federal Reserve Board economist, Selva Demiralp, has authored an article detailing discussions held at last week’s gathering. The report was published in Turkish, but has been translated into English for use in this article.
In the BBC Turkish article, Demiralp acknowledged privacy of Bilderberg meetings coupled with the high-profile nature of participants leads to conspiracy theories, mystique and public curiosity about what is addressed by elites on the inside of the gatherings. The meetings are not a “platform for secret ideas and plans,” Demiralp wrote.
The Turkish economist and academic stated the general theme of Bilderberg meetings is to find common ground between the United States and Europe and find solutions to increasing challenges. According to Demiralp’s account of the 2019 gathering, western elites are struggling somewhat with that task.
Fear economic crisis spells the EU’s demise
Despite its secrecy, the Bilderberg Group is known for unabashed support for the European Union. Critics of the organization have circulated theories that the group helped engineer the creation of the EU and the euro currency. This year’s informal Bilderberg meeting agenda listed both Brexit and the future of the EU as key topics.
The migrant crisis, trade wars, terrorism and climate change are creating problems that the EU cannot solve. Additionally, the last economic crisis caused a loss of credibility for the EU, and a new crisis could prove even more devastating for the union, Demiralp’s article says.
“What if the European economy slows down and falls into a new crisis, are there enough tools to get out of the crisis?” Demiralp wrote. “A dark portrait was painted on this topic.”
In particular, Italy was discussed at the meeting as posing an economic risk that Europe must address.
Division over China
The U.S. and Europe differ significantly on approaches to trade and technological cooperation, or lack thereof, with China, according to Demiralp’s account of the conference in Switzerland.
It was noted that a “technological cold war with China” must be avoided. Europe is not happy with the U.S. requesting support in countering Beijing and is concerned with Washington potentially placing tariffs on European goods. It was stated during the meeting that Europe will work with the U.S. but not follow it.
Likewise, it was noted during the conference that the U.S. refused to develop a joint strategy on China, and it was stressed that a division between the U.S. and EU would make for an opportunity for China, Demiralp wrote.
No compromise with Turkey over S-400
One matter American and European elites can agree on is Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system, an agreement that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says is a done deal, but it is still hotly contested.
Demiralp subheaded the final section of her article, “There will be no compromise with Turkey on S-400 issue.” She placed the subheading in quotation marks, though did not attribute it to anyone.
Bilderberg did not mention Turkey on the key topics list for its 2019 meeting. Demiralp stated the country, indeed, was not one of the main topics of the conference, but there were a couple debates about Turkey, and there was agreement about Ankara’s missile defense deal with Moscow.
“It was noted that if Turkey is going to insist on the S-400 missile defense system then there will be sanctions, there will be no compromise with Ankara and Turkey will be kicked out of the F-35 consortium and its role in the supply chain of the project will be ended,” Demiralp wrote.
Other sentiments garnered from discussion on this matter include understanding that Ankara acquiring the S-400 will negatively impact NATO as a whole and that Russia’s increasing influence in the region should be seen as a significant threat to the alliance. Demiralp said it is her impression that Bilderberg participants blamed U.S. President Donald Trump, in part, for Turkey’s drift toward Russia.
“In my interpretation, Donald Trump’s aggressive stance on Turkey and his reckless attitude toward NATO were implicitly condemned as having pushed Turkey closer to Russia,” Demiralp wrote.
It was said at the conference that it is a necessity to show NATO is a security organization and not just a strategic organization and that, in the United States specifically, both Democrats and Republicans must back this initiative.
The supposed green consensus
Whether genuine or not, Bilderberg is placing increasing emphasis on environmentalism and the green agenda. Demiralp noted there were many participants in the conference from green parties and green industries. This was reflected in material published on the Bilderberg website, as well as in limited interactions between participants and reporters on the outside of the conference.
Bilderberg Steering Committee member and former Google chief Eric Schmidt even tweeted about climate change during the conference.
However, the supposed green consensus is questionable when considering the conference drew oil executives and members of the Trump Administration, which has rejected the Paris climate accord.
If it is an accurate account of the meeting, Demiralp’s article amounts to a rather large leak from Bilderberg, though it seemingly complies with Chatham House rules and does not describe anything nefarious. Nor does the article seem to give much insight into side conversations and breakout meetings that may be occurring at the conference.
With regard to the actual discussions that took place, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise there is a growing divide between the U.S. and Europe, particularly at a time in which Trump is in power in Washington and Europeans are increasingly voting for green parties.
Though Turkey was not a main topic, the revelation that there were multiple debates on matters pertaining to the country shows it is of geopolitical significance to western elites.
The apparent unanimity on Turkey may signal Ankara has reached a crossroads. The gathering contained the head of NATO, high-ranking American officials and European elites. If they are all in agreement that there should not be compromise with Ankara, and Turkey still goes forward with the S-400 deal, the country’s days in the military alliance could possibly be numbered.
Likewise, Bilderberg participants’ apparent agreement that Turkey will get cut out of the F-35 manufacturing process is worth noting. The meeting was chock-full of western defense officials and individuals with ties to the defense industry, including retired U.S. Admiral James O. Ellis, who sits on the board of Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35.
Coincidentally, the 2019 Bilderberg meeting was held in the palace where the 1936 Montreux Convention was signed. The Montreux Convention regulates the transit of ships between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and effectively gives NATO member Turkey control over the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, a longtime point of contention between Moscow and Ankara.
As occurred when Turkey shot down a Russian plane over the Syrian-Turkish border in 2015, the Montreux Convention can serve as a reminder of the potential for conflict between Moscow and Ankara to escalate. While there has since been a rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, Moscow and Ankara have recently found themselves pitted against one another again in Syria, this time over the province of Idlib.
Perchance despite all signs to the contrary, Erdogan will walk back the S-400 deal and reaffirm Turkey’s commitment to NATO. If the deal goes through and sanctions take effect, Turkey’s already battered currency and economy are expected to weaken further. Indeed there is a lot at risk for Ankara, given Turkey just recently emerged from recession, the lira is at nearly 6 to the dollar and allegations of voter suppression surround the upcoming redo of the Istanbul mayoral election.
Clear cracks have surfaced in Erdogan’s nearly two-decade rule. Simultaneously, thanks in part to the direction of Erdogan’s Turkey, cracks have emerged in western elites’ “stable strategic order,” the number 1 topic on the Bilderberg 2019 list. Maybe it’s only fitting that public discussion on the Bilderberg conference is taking place in Turkish.