Davos guide A-Z: what you need to know about the WEF
Heavy snow is forecast for the high Alps this week when the global elite gathers for its annual shindig in Davos. The blizzard may cover up the architectural blemishes of the unprepossessing Swiss town, but it will be unable to hide the fault lines in the global economy.
The agenda is a full one, with the mood one of caution and some trepidation. Slowing growth, financial fragility, governments teetering on the brink of insolvency and default, and clear signs of a public backlash against the excesses of the rich and powerful: all have created a sombre backdrop to the invitation-only affair.
So if you are not packing your ski boots in anticipation of rubbing shoulders with Bob Diamond or George Osborne, here is your A to Z guide to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
A is for anti-globalisation Davos is the Glastonbury of globalisation, the event that attracts all the movers and shakers of the world economy. For one week in January it contains more billionaires per square kilometre than any place on earth and, unsurprisingly, attracts the attention of the anti-globalisation movement. This year the protests will be centred on an igloo, which will be home to Occupy the World Economic Forum. The Swiss authorities tend to take a tough line with protesters—and even innocent bystanders. Last year Andrew Clark, then Observer business editor, was arrested on a train on his way back from Davos.
B is for Belvedere During the day the action in Davos is focused on the conference centre, an ugly 1970s building which has recently been modernised and extended. After hours, members of the WEF normally repair to the Belvedere, the hotel where all the best parties are held and where many of the dignitaries stay. Hotels in Davos week are eye-wateringly expensive: a bog-standard, chalet-style room costs 400-500 Swiss francs (R3 396-R4 245) a night, with a five-night minimum stay.
C is for Cameron The English prime minister is one of close to 40 heads of state or government expected to show up for this year’s talkfest. An experienced Davos hand, Cameron first came to the event as opposition leader, but will deliver one of the keynote addresses this year. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are also both on the list of participants.
D is for Doha Each year trade ministers gather in Davos for talks aimed at breathing new life into the moribund Doha trade liberalisation talks. Each year they fail.
E is for Europe This year’s hot topic is the crisis in the eurozone, which is casting a shadow over the entire global economy. Expect lots of sermons from the Chinese, the Americans and the Brits about the need for Europe to “get its act together” and warm words from European policymakers about how the worst of the crisis is now over.
F is for fondue Getting the authentic taste of Swiss cuisine in Davos is surprisingly difficult, with most of the hotels serving identical international fare. Those in the know head for the Gentiana, where George Osborne dined last year with Angel Gurría, head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
G is for Gates Since handing over control of Microsoft, Bill Gates has devoted himself to philanthropy and will use Davos as a platform to call for the use of innovative sources of finance, such as a financial transaction tax, to fund development.
H is for Hungary The attention over the past year has been on Europe’s soft southern underbelly—Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain. In the past few weeks, the crisis has spread east to the former communist country, which was badly burned by the global financial crisis. An International Monetary Fund programme is imminent and Hungary’s plight will be much discussed.
I is for Igwel Davos is organised around a series of themed sessions in which panels of experts give their views on the issues of the moment. Behind the scenes, world leaders are encouraged to talk more freely at “Igwels”—informal gatherings of world economic leaders. This is supposed to be where the business of Davos is done, although the real deal-making takes place in one-on-one clandestine meetings.
J is for Johnson It is a mayoral election year in London, so Boris will be in town to bang the drum for his new airport, dish the dirt on Ken Livingstone and tell the world about how wonderful the Olympics will be. Only the mischievous would say he will be trying to upstage the prime minister.
K is for Klosters A 15-minute spin down the mountain by minibus or limo, Klosters has become the overspill town for those who can’t find rooms in Davos or who prefer to spend more time on the ski slopes than in the conference centre.
L is for Lagarde This will be Christine Lagarde’s first meeting as managing director of the International Monetary Fund. She has plenty on her to-do list: preventing the break-up of the euro, addressing the state of the global economy and making sure the fund has enough money to provide help to countries that need it.
M is for Merkel Each year Davos is kicked off with a big speech by a prominent world leader and this year it is Angela Merkel’s turn. Germany’s pivotal role in resolving the eurozone crisis means her words will be carefully scrutinised by the financial markets.
N is for non-governmental organisations There was a time in the 1990s when Davos was the exclusive preserve of politicians, business folk and academics. Development was not on the agenda and trade unionists were not permitted inside the conference centre. These days the WEF prides itself on making the event more inclusive, extending invitations to charities such as Oxfam and One, founded by Bono. The U2 singer has become a Davos fixture but will not be there this year.
O is for off-piste The bread and butter of Davos are the sessions on economics, business and finance, but the WEF now boasts an array of off-piste sessions, in which members can keep up to speed with the latest developments in neuroscience, quantum physics, astronomy, music, architecture and literature. For many participants these are the most enjoyable bits of the week.
P is for Pandit Each Davos meeting has a number of co-chairs drawn from the business community, which pays royally for the privilege. Vikram Pandit, chief executive officer of Citigroup, is one of this year’s six co-chairs. The others are Yasuchika Hasegawa, chief executive of Takeda Pharmaceutical; Paul Polman, Unilever’s boss; Peter Voser, chief of Royal Dutch Shell; Alejandro Ramírez, boss of the Mexican cinema chain Cinépolis; and, to redress the gender balance somewhat, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer.
Q is for queue Unless you are a head of state, there is no escaping the long lines to get into the conference centre—and the Belvedere—at peak times of the day. It gets quite nippy in January, especially when it snows, so take a nice warm coat.
R is for Roubini Back in 2007, Nouriel Roubini was one of the few economists to see the global crash coming. Dr Doom, as he has come to be known will set the tone on Wednesday in a session called ‘The Seeds of Dystopia’. Not one for the faint-hearted.
S is for Schwab Klaus Schwab has been Mr Davos since founding the WEF in 1971 with the motto “committed to improving the state of the world”. Schwab, who was born in Germany in 1938, said last week that capitalism, in its current form, “no longer fits the world around us”.
T is for trophy wives Normally accompanying American tycoons, the TWs are easy to spot in Davos. They are the ones with the highest heels, the big hair, the real fur coats and the hints of expensive cosmetic surgery.
U is for United States As ever, there will be plenty of American businessmen on parade at the forum, since they like a few days’ R&R in the Alps. But it is a presidential election year, so US politicians will be thin on the ground. Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary, is the biggest name on the attendance list.
V is for valley Davos nestles in a valley high in the mountains. First inhabited in the middle ages, from the 19th century it became a popular destination for those suffering from tuberculosis because doctors thought the air was good for their patients—including Thomas Mann, whose novel The Magic Mountain is set in Davos.
W is for women Reflecting life in the boardroom, Davos has tended to be a male-dominated affair. The WEF is promising to do better this year.
X is for Zhang Xiaoqiang The deputy director of China’s national development and reform commission is part of Beijing’s increasingly influential Davos team. Given the growing importance of emerging countries in the global economy, there has been a subtle shift at the annual meeting. Once western leaders used to lecture developing countries: now it is the other way around.
Y is for York That’s his royal highness the Duke of York to you. Prince Andrew turns up in Davos every year to promote Britain’s exports.
Z is for Zoellick Having fallen out with Barack Obama, it appears unlikely that Robert Zoellick will seek a second term as World Bank president when his first runs out in July. Rumours have it that he will announce his decision in Davos this week.—