Davos political guests struggle to advance agenda

30th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Global business leaders headed home from Davos Sunday after a week in which were courted by politicians seeking plans to deal with debt, food scarcity, climate change and revolt on the Arab street.

The world economy may be steering itself cautiously out of the doldrums, but leaders have struggled to agree remedies to the key threats on the agenda at the annual World Economic Forum's elite annual networking event.

"Let me highlight the one resource that is scarcest of all: time," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as dozens of senior international figures swung by to lobby some of the richest and most powerful people on the planet.

Ban was specifically talking about the battle to halt climate change, but he could just have easily be addressing stalled world trade talks, Europe's debt crisis, Chinese asset-price inflation or soaring world food prices.

There was no lack of good will in Davos, the self-selecting group that makes the annual pilgrimage up the mountain to this snowbound resort is largely sold on the virtues of a globalised economy and multilateral cooperation.

But many of the debates at this year's event were pessimistic in tone, and the political guests sometimes appeared caught flat-footed by shock events far beyond the Davos Congress Centre.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev put on a credible show of defiance to the terrorists who bombed a Moscow airport shortly before he was due in Davos, but his arrival was delayed and his visit cut short.

His opening day speech was preceded by a minute of silence, and worries about extremist violence took the shine off the Russia delegation's unveiling of a billion-dollar oil exploration deal with US giant ExxonMobil.

Meanwhile, Forum organisers were scrambling to address the number one topic of anxious discussion in the venue's corridors -- the popular revolts in North Africa and the risk of their spreading throughout the Arab world.

Davos managed to produce a trio of newly-minted ministers from the Tunisian interim regime, and they were warmly welcomed to the fold as champions of the fight for freedom, but between sessions delegates sought news from Egypt.

Western leaders fear Egypt's revolution will trigger bloodshed and boost Islamism, but don't want to be seen to be backing an autocrat like strongman Hosni Mubarak, and Davos never really managed to address the issue.

Meanwhile, topics debated with great elan at Davos 2010 have scarcely moved on: post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti has stalled, the Middle East peace process is in ruins and Iran clings doggedly to its nuclear plants.

Since then the Lebanese government has fallen and Ivory Coast has found itself divided between two would-be presidents and on the brink of war.

With the political and environmental crises proving intractable, the Forum spent a lot of time listening to rival economic recovery plans, but here again Western leaders were on the defensive.

Russia and fast-growing India duelled to see which could plaster the resort city with more triumphant posters, and Chinese executives and officials made placatory noises about global trade imbalances without making concessions.

But a string of European leaders concentrated on defending the stability of the euro and their deficit reduction plans, while the United States insisted they had got it all wrong and that now was not the time to cut spending.

© 2011 AFP

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