The secretive Bilderberg conference began Thursday in Copenhagen, where a diverse group of political leaders as well as experts from industry, finance, academia and media are meeting to discuss major issues facing the world.
The group’s annual meetings — which explicitly ban media coverage — have inspired conspiracy theories about the motives that bring together some of the richest and most powerful people in the world.
National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance and the Ukraine crisis are among the discussion topics this year, the Bilderberg group said in a brief press release.
The meetings are held under the Chatham House Rule — which means attendees are allowed to publicly discuss things that have been said during the conference without revealing the identity or affiliation of the speaker or any participant involved.
A spokesman for the 62nd Bilderberg conference — held from May 29 to June 1 — told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement that the secrecy is necessary to ensure that participants can “speak freely in an environment of trust.”
“The Bilderberg meetings are a forum for informal discussions. The conference neither has a desired outcome or closing statement, nor are resolutions proposed or votes taken,” the statement read.
Bilderberg was founded in 1954, according to its website, and was designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America.
Along with its extreme secrecy, Bilderberg also differs from other international business and political conferences — such as the annual World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland — in its small size. Many major conferences involve hundreds of participants, but the spokesman said only 120 to 150 are invited to attend Bilderberg.
This year’s guest list includes at least two members of European royalty, senior officials from Microsoft and Google, representatives from top U.S. universities, and executives from Western banks, car manufacturers and energy companies.
Also on the high-profile guest list are Keith Alexander, former NSA director; Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of NATO; Philip M. Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander in Europe; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; Cengiz Candar, reporter for news websites Al-Monitor and Radikal; and John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist magazine.
The group will discuss the future of global politics and economics, the press release said. Questions including "Is economic recovery sustainable?" and "Does privacy exist?" will be taken up.
Participants will also talk about the future of democracy, what’s next for Europe, China’s political and economic outlook and the "new architecture of the Middle East."
When asked if the meeting would have any tangible impact on current events, the spokesman said the conference has no desired outcome. He added: “The meetings are held under the Chatham House Rule … considering these rules, we cannot comment on such issues.”