Davos scales back glitz
With capitalism in crisis, the leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland find less star power than usual.
Genava — No Bono, no Angelina.
With capitalism in crisis, the 2,500 business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week finds less star power than usual.
Organisers say the five-day event that started Wednesday will focus on work and on shaping the world after the crisis ends.
But with dozens of world leaders and finance ministers, and heads of the some of the world's biggest companies in attendance, this year's gathering may have trouble looking beyond the world's current economic problems. But the forum's head says they need to try.
"We are still in the midst of the crisis, let's face it," said Klaus Schwab, founder of the 39-year-old forum. "But we will look also at the world after the crisis, because this is a transformational crisis and the world certainly will be different afterward."
There will still be receptions with canapes and champagne, but no A-list Hollywood stars such as previous guests Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone.
Even Bono, the U2 frontman who prodded the wealthy for years at Davos to give more to the poor, is not coming.
"Bono has a day job, too," said forum spokesman Mark Adams. "He's finishing an album."
Adams said there will still be actors, writers, designers, and architects. This year, they include singer Peter Gabriel, Chinese martial artist Jet Li and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.
"If there's a change, it's a shift eastwards as we are bringing in artists from different cultures around the world," Adams said. "I'm sure there will be a different tone this year and a sense that we need to get down to work. There are 230 working sessions and that's what people are coming for."
The economic crisis that emerged out the collapse of securities based on shaky US mortgages poses challenges for an event that champions market-driven approaches combined with sound global governance to the world's problems, ranging from climate change to terrorism.
Some forum participants are themselves mired in the problem, even as they try to propose solutions.
Struggling Citigroup Inc lost billions on risky securities. Nevertheless, it helped the forum produce a risk assessment report for the annual meeting and says it sent at least four executives to Davos.
Marcel Rohner, chief of Swiss bank UBS AG, and Societe Generale Chairman Daniel Bouton are among the other leaders of banks receiving public funds whom the forum says are attending. Its lineup also lists four representatives of Bank of America Corp.
It costs over USD 50,000 (CHF 56,980, EUR 38,500) to send an executive to Davos. At the top level, the forum's strategic partners give USD 435,000 and can send five people. Despite the obvious pain some of its members are suffering, the forum says it is coping well and includes 21 more participants this year than in 2008.
Appropriately, perhaps, one session is titled "Update 2009: The Return to State Power" and assesses governments taking a stronger role to address the crisis and their "true impact during a global slowdown."
Other debates focus on energy, climate change, free trade and development assistance.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was the first of over 40 heads of state or government present to get on the stage; Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave the keynote address. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Mexican President Felipe Calderon are also attending.
It's not clear what presence the new US administration will have, because the meeting is shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama amid Senate confirmation hearings of key appointees.
Heads of the world's biggest central banks are present with one notable exception: US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Obama's choice for Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, still faces Senate confirmation and is not slated to attend.
Protecting the leaders in attendance takes hundreds of police, as well as up to 5,000 soldiers for a security tab as high as USD 7 million.
The anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation groups who oppose the forum did not gain approval for a demonstration in Davos and are banned from protesting in Geneva. Some may take to the streets anyway.
"As the subprime crisis shakes the whole world, plunging the United State and Europe into recession, as the people are currently paying the bills of capitalism, the economic and political elite are meeting once again in Davos," reads one call for protest by an anti-forum coalition. "To the streets against the forum, for a different world!"
Text: AP / Bradley S. Klapper / Expatica