The World Economic Forum in Davos has an impressive tradition. Almost every time, shortly before the annual top meeting of politicians and business elite in the Swiss Alps, a crisis arises that comes as a complete surprise. In 2015, economic turbulence in China hit managers in the Alps, two years later the election of Donald Trump caused a turning point in the global structure, and in Davos Chinese President Xi immediately formulated his country’s claim to global leadership.
A year later, it was Trump himself who launched a trade war with a series of tariffs in Davos of all places. In 2019, a stock market tremor disrupted the Davos meeting. And in 2020, a mood crash among managers caused a sensation, the corona pandemic was only just beginning.
This year, in which the WEF is taking place for the first time in the summer due to the pandemic, there are two real crises: there is war in Europe and at the same time a global economic crisis is looming with an unsavory mix of adversities, each of which is attracting everyone’s attention deserved by politicians and business leaders. There is the increasing debt of many countries with a correspondingly limited ability to react to crises. There is the looming food crisis, which threatens to provoke supply bottlenecks on a scale that has long since been overcome.
And then there is currency depreciation. The global economy is facing the highest inflation in two generations. Inflation is almost nine percent on average worldwide. At least the American central bank is preparing to take courageous countermeasures and has triggered a stock market crisis on Wall Street. The venerable Dow Jones index has just ended its eighth consecutive week of declines, the longest negative streak since 1923. Global stock market values have fallen by $21 trillion in the past few weeks. Business leaders and hedge fund managers are coming to Davos much poorer this year.
Among top executives, disrupted supply chains and inflation are likely to be high on the agenda. Hardly any business leader expects that inflation will only be a short, temporary episode.
The 51st Summit is themed “History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Corporate Strategies”. This means the new world order after Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. It is an irony of history that the World Economic Forum in Davos is poorly prepared for this new world order. The makers of the WEF assumed that global economic connections create peace and prosperity.
Last year, WEF founder Klaus Schwab greeted Vladimir Putin at the virtual summit meeting by asking what ideas the Russian President had so that people around the world could live in peace and prosperity. Just one year later, the entire Russian delegation was uninvited, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will deliver the opening political speech in Davos via video link. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba will be there in person, as will Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko. The main message of the Ukrainian delegation will be related to the post-war reconstruction of the country. Accordingly, numerous Ukrainian business leaders are in Davos. Overall, Eastern Europe is well represented this year. Prime Minister and President of the WEF are from Poland.
It is the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that the conference will not have Russians among its elite participants. And it is the first time since the Iranian revolution of 1979 that the WEF has actively unloaded an entire nation. If the forum has so far seen itself as a platform for resolving political conflicts in the world – unforgettable is the handshake between Israeli Foreign Minister Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat or the Davos Declaration between Greece and Turkey – the doers seem to be the doers in the case of Russia and Ukraine little prospect of a successful negotiation. The strong presence from Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union was conspicuous. In 2020, Russians made up the third most billionaires among the participants. This year, pictures of Russian war crimes will be exhibited in the former “Russia House” of the Russian delegation in Davos.
From a political point of view, the USA is not represented very high-ranking this year either. Only senators from the states have set out for the high Alps. This is not necessarily a sign of ignorance, but also a question of the schedule. At the same time as Davos, the quad meeting of the heads of state and government of Australia, India, Japan and the USA is taking place in Tokyo.
The strong presence of politicians from the Middle East is all the more striking this year. Eleven ministers are expected from the United Arab Emirates, seven from Saudi Arabia and five from Qatar, along with the emir. Energy security is one of the important issues in Davos. Economics Minister Robert Habeck, together with the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, the head of the oil company Occidental Petroleum, Vicki Hollub, and the head of the French utility Engie, Catherine MacGregor, are expected to take the podium right at the start.
German politics is rare in Davos this year. Finance Minister Christian Lindner is not there, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who two years ago was appointed to the group of “Young Global Leaders” by the WEF, is also elsewhere. Markus Söder, who was there for the first time in 2020, is missing this time, only one person comes from German Christian Democracy, and she is no longer politically active at home: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
In addition to Economics Minister Robert Habeck, only SPD leader Lars Klingbeil and Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit Davos. Scholz will conclude the forum with his speech shortly before noon on Thursday. Most of the “Davos Men” will of course be back in their private planes by then.
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