Le Cercle is a secretive, invitation-only foreign policy forum. Its focus has been opposing Communism and, in the 1970s and 1980s, supporting apartheid when the group had intimate ties with and funding from South Africa. The group was described by British Conservative MP Alan Clark as "an Atlanticist society of right-wing dignitaries".
Le Cercle was established in 1952-53 by then French prime minister Antoine Pinay and French intelligence agent Jean Violet under the name Cercle Pinay. Konrad Adenauer and Franz Josef Strauss were co-founders and reconciliation between France and Germany was an important goal. Historian Adrian Hänni wrote that "The Cercle's founding vision encompassed the integration of a Christian-Catholic Europe, an aspiration reflected in the Cercle's personal membership and the countries represented in its early years." The other members of the original Cercle were from the Governments of Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands including a number of members of the Catholic Opus Dei and the Knights of Malta.
Political changes in 1969 led to the addition, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States with meetings held twice a year rather than three times a year as before. This led to a shift in objectives, which became an emphasis on forming a strong anti-Communist alliance between the United States and Europe. Hänni stated that "The leaders of the group increasingly considered strategies to target public opinion and, to this end, formed a "Cercle network" of associated organizations, institutes and think tanks, which attacked both the Soviet Union and the perceived "leftist" governments or opposition movements in Europe and the Third World." Its members were mainly elderly male conservatives, with many belong to anti-Communist organisations including the World Anti-Communist League. The Union of South Africa provided the only official delegation and the Cercle supported organisations such as Renamo, whose general secretary attended meetings, and Unita.
Le Cercle was mentioned in the early 1980s by Der Spiegel in Germany as a result of the controversy surrounding Franz Josef Strauss, one of the regular attendants of the Cercle. In the late 1990s, the Cercle received some attention after a scandal had broken out involving Jonathan Aitken, at the time chairman of Le Cercle. Members that were contacted by newspapers refused to answer any questions.
Sample agenda from 1979
An agenda presented by Brian Crozier noted that its goal to change the British Government had been changed by the election of Margaret Thatcher and among others listed the following objectives:
- "Undercover financial transactions for political aims";
- "International campaigns aiming to discredit hostile personalities or events";
- "Creation of a (private) intelligence service specialising in a selective point of view"
- 1953–1971: Antoine Pinay
- 1971–1980: Jean Violet
- 1980–1985: Brian Crozier
- 1985–1993: Julian Amery
- 1993–1996: Jonathan Aitken
- 1996–2008: Norman Lamont
- 2008–2013: Michael Ancram
- 2013–2014: Rory Stewart
- 2015–2018: Nadhim Zahawi
- Vuuren, Hennie van (2019). Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit. Oxford University Press. p. 342-349. ISBN 9781787382473.
- Clark, Alan (2011). Alan Clark: A Life in his Own Words. Orion. ISBN 9781780220352. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
- Adrian Hänni (2014). "The Cercle in the "Second Cold War"". In van Dongen, Luc; Roulin, Stéphanie; Scott-Smith, Giles (eds.). Transnational Anti-Communism and the Cold War: Agents, Activities, and Networks. Springer. p. 161-172. ISBN 9781137388803.
- Anthony Cavendish, obituary in The Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2013
- Der Spiegel: Victory for Strauß. 37/1982 (PDF)
- "Aitken dropped by the Right's secret club". The Independent. 1997-06-29. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-09-22. Retrieved 2008-06-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Blackhurst, Chris (29 June 1997). "Aitken dropped by the Right's secret club". The Independent. Retrieved 2 November 2019.
- "House of Lords - Economic Affairs - Sixth Report". publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 2 November 2019.
- Johnston, John (22 July 2019). "Top Tories face questions over links to secretive foreign affairs group". PoliticsHome. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
- Johannes Großmann: Die Internationale der Konservativen. Transnationale Elitenzirkel und private Außenpolitik in Westeuropa seit 1945, Munich 2014 (especially pages 437-496).