Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

As performers go to Davos, the circus steals the show

The leaders who meet at Davos each year for the World Economic Forum say more than they do there. So what, exactly, is the point?

It is time again for those who think they are members of the global power elite to gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting. As it begins next Wednesday, the "95/5 Occupy Davos" crowd will be gathering, too, called in by activists via social media and otherwise by internet. They say they will live in igloos, not hotels.

Also hovering in the wings, either among the WEF attendees or simply "being global" with an internet presence, will be many investors, especially hedge-fund managers and vulture-fund managers. It is a curious three-sided arrangement that I will be interested to watch.

It is plausible that big gatherings really produce only media sound bites for the press, rather than solutions on real issues. I have often wondered what some academics really get out of delivering a paper at a prestigious conference.

Attending one's theme stream is de rigueur - but no one will be enlightened by these broad cross-discipline discussions.

It's the same at the exciting TED conferences as at the WEF. Huge circuses where, it is suggested, even presidents go to make headline speeches aimed more at their own constituents or for electioneering purposes (via the media) than for the enlightenment of the other people in attendance. Meetings can be too big - or too political.

Consider the G8 group, which had its founding meeting (as the G7 before Russia's membership) in 1975 in France.

The G8 agreed famously, at the Gleneagles meeting in 2005, on a $50 billion (Dh184 billion) aid package for poor nations. Agreed it was, but hardly delivered. That begs the question: what are such meetings for?

Tony Blair, then the UK prime minister, acknowledged the shortcomings of the summit, saying: "We do not, simply by this communiqué make poverty history ... the G8 had demonstrated a political will to end global poverty, and to tackle the effects of greenhouse gas emissions." It was a pretty vacuous statement.

Enlarging the circle even more, in 1999 the G8 expanded to become the G20, after the Asian financial crisis.

It was thought that by including all major economies, more inclusive decisions might be made. Whether this is actually the case remains to be seen.

The EU is also a big group of many nations and very many people, a huge trading bloc that often needs to create solutions quickly.

Only a few days ago, following Standards & Poor's downgrade of nine European nations' credit ratings, many voices were urging ministers in the eurozone to "urgently address the issues".

Not many in the EU wish harm to the euro, but procrastination, and also politicking and electioneering in some states, precludes action. Prime ministers, presidents and chancellors do not rule all by themselves: they act for their governments and thus democratically for their peoples. Each has a regular timetable of meetings and a full programme of parliamentary legislation in their own countries. European issues must be managed on top of these.

And always each of these leaders faces opposition parties sniping that the current government is weak. In today's economic climate, can the WEF really create a solution for the woes of the EU, or will it produce rhetoric only?

Outdoors at Davos, in the cold, the 95/5 Occupy group will seem to be half jealous of the success of the earlier 99/1 Occupy movement that swept across the globe in recent months. Of course, the original Occupy group had a generalised legitimacy: after all, top bankers and fund managers are partly the cause of the recent financial turmoil.

And now the vulture-fund managers are looking for their next kill by investing in distressed nations. It's only logical, they say, we are simply maintaining shareholder value (or more precisely, their partners' payrolls).

Neither the protesters nor the WEF delegates will achieve all that much this time around at Davos. The main meeting is simply too big a circus to agree on detailed issues, although no doubt we will be blessed with a communiqué or two.

What may be better for actual resolution, and is favoured by my own organisation Horasis, is smaller informal groups, abiding by the Chatham House rule (no attribution in the press of the information emerging from the meeting), with plenty of free time for coffee-table discussions. After that kind of process, perhaps we might agree to meet again on actual changes.

The hope at smaller meetings like these is that we participants are not perceived, like the shadowy elite in Akira Kurosawa's great film Kagemusha, as a hidden puppeteer pulling strings.


Frank-Jürgen Richter is the chairman of Horasis, a global business community. Follow on Twitter @horasisorg

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Al Fayah Park will be located on Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street opposite the Dome@Rawdhat. Courtesy Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation

In pictures: Abu Dhabi’s new Al Fayah Park

The plans for the new 125,000 square metre Al Fayah – which means 'shade' in Arabic – Park were unveiled on Tuesday at Cityscape Abu Dhabi.

 Faqar, a Baluchi labourer, is illuminated by the dappled light filtering through the palm leave canopy of the garden he is irrigating via an age old Falaj system, or water channels, used to irrigate the palm gardens of Al Ain. Antonie Robertson / The National

Focal Point: Immersed in an Al Ain oasis

Photographer Antonie Robertson immerses us in an Al Ain oasis

 Manager Jose Mourinho of Chelsea looks on from the dug out during the Champions League semi-final first leg match against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. Paul Gilham / Getty Images / April 22, 2014

‘Now the game of our lives is at Stamford Bridge’ says Mourinho after Chelsea, Atletico draw

After Tuesday's scoreless draw, Jose Mourinho revealed Petr Cech's season was over and John Terry was also done unless they could reach the Champions League final.

 From left, Mansoor Nabil Abdul Ghafar, Mohammed Al Tamimi and Marwan Nabil Abdul Ghafar, three co-owners of Code CrossFit, Abu Dhabi's first CrossFit gym. Ann Marie McQueen / The National / April 2014

Abu Dhabi gets its first CrossFit gym, Code CrossFit, thanks to four Emirati friends

Four Emirati friends have joined forces to open Abu Dhabi's first CrossFit gym, Code CrossFit.

 Former Manchester United manager David Moyes, right, speaks to Manchester United's Welsh midfielder Ryan Giggs during a training session at the team's Carrington training complex in Manchester, north-west England on April 22, 2014. Andrew Yates / AFP

Giggs a better fit for Manchester United than Moyes

The winger, who has played 962 games for the club, has been placed in interim charge of the first team and will be assisted by his former Manchester United teammate Nicky Butt.

 One of the 21 duplex penthouses located in the curved sky-bridge at Gate Towers, spanning approximately 300 metres across three towers. Courtesy Aldar

Gate Towers Penthouse Collection on Reem Island launched by Aldar

The 21 duplex penthouses, which are located in the curved sky-bridge and feature private indoor pools and views of the city, were launched at Cityscape Abu Dhabi.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National