In its curt public statements, the Bilderberg attempts to present itself as an informal forum intended to foster "better understanding of the forces and trends affecting Western nations."

Charles Muller, an administrator of American Friends of the Bilderberg, Incorporated, wrote to author Robert Eringer, "Bilderberg is a high-ranking and flexible international forum in which opposing viewpoints can be brought closer together and mutual understanding furthered."

Sounds harmless enough. Bilderberg proponents assert that the Group has no actual governing power of its own, and therefore is incapable of directly influencing global events. In the real world, however, such assertions are laughable. Even its members concede that Bilderberg debates do have a global impact on political, economic and military policies.

"No policy is made here; it is all talk, some of it banal and platitudinous," said London Observer editor Will Hutton, who attended the 1997 Bilderberg meeting. "But the consensus established is the backdrop against which policy is made worldwide."

These policies are often profound developments on the global political and economic scene. Bilderberg attendee Jack Sheinkman, chairman of the Amalgamated Bank in the United States, told The Scotsman, "in some cases [Bilderberg] discussions do have an impact.... The idea of a common European currency was discussed before it became policy, as did the establishment of U.S.-China diplomatic relations before Richard Nixon became involved."

According to H. R. H. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands: An Authorized Biography:

When asked for an example of a Bilderberg accomplishment [former U.S. ambassador to West Germany] George McGhee said, "I believe you could say the Treaty of Rome, which brought the Common Market into being, was nurtured at these meetings and aided by the main stream of our discussions there. Prince Bernhard is a great catalyst."

Critics have also charged that the Bilderberg laid the foundations for a European "Round Table" group of 45 business magnates which was established in 1981 to influence events in the European Union.

Retired academic and Bilderberg researcher Andrew Lockhart Walker told The Scotsman, "Bilderberg did all the groundwork for the group which is running Europe behind the scenes. They've had a backroom boy role for a very long time."

But if the Bilderberg is able to harness dramatic shifts in global politics and economics, one would expect to hear some mention of the Group in the media. The World Economic Forum at Davos, for instance, receives extensive media coverage every year. So why the Bilderberg blackout?