Non, non, a thousand times, non

Jan 27, 2007 11:53 UTC

Royal-watchers could have had a pretty good time in Davos. The king and queen of Jordan, who host a Middle East Davos most years on the banks of the Dead Sea, have been speaking. Britain’s Duke of York has been wandering about. So has Belgium’s Prince Philippe.
But one Royal that has not been here is Segolene, presidential candidate for France’s Socialists. Nor for that matter have many French officials, candidates or otherwise, been around. Germany, Britain, the United States, Russia, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa have been most evident. La France, non.
The reason, French journalists say, is that Davos is altogether too into globalisation for gallic taste. Irony of ironies, then, that one of the top Frenchmen here is Pascal Lamy, secretary general of the World Trade Organisation.
France’s Davosophobia has triggered the ire of at least one of the country’s columnists — Nicolas Barre in Le Figaro. His gist is that France is hurting itself by snubbing Davos. That France is angry about globalisation is nothing new, he says, but that is no reason to shout it from the rooftop of the world.

School’s (almost) out

Jan 27, 2007 10:35 UTC

The snow is falling heavily and there is a kind of end-of-term feeling in Davos as the WEF annual meeting enters its lasIMG_2298[1].JPGt full day. Not a bad time, then, to ask why people really bother to come here.
There is a lot of scepticism among outsiders that Davos is just a big talking shop, full of self-importance and hot air. Some of this doubtless comes from the way the WEF presents itself. “Shaping the Global Agenda” is hardly a modest goal.

Talk of the “spirit of Davos” can, let’s face it, grate.
But the top business leaders wandering the halls here don’t buy into that wholesale. Chats with a number of them over the past few days have shown a general fondness for the meeting but for interestingly diverse reasons.
First there are the networkers like the European blue-chip CEO who said he goes nowhere near any of the discussion panels and comes simply to meet people. Then there are the sellers like the American hi-tech entrepreneur who was out flogging his latest toy or the Middle Eastern official who said he was tooting his organisation’s horn.
But the intellectual debate available is also a major draw. A leading wealth manager told me that of course he was here to meet clients, but what he really liked was that once a year he got to go “back to school”. Where else can he spend time digging into old issues and learning about completely new ones?

Big names, big continent

Jan 26, 2007 22:07 UTC

Africa_davos.jpgPeople who come to Davos are a sophisticated lot but a little celebrity can cause a frisson in even the most jaded boardroom executive. No question where the excitement was in Davos on the third day — the Africa session.
There was Bono, who took off his Fidel Castro cap beforehand, and Tony Blair, who still has the power to draw a crowd despite an upcoming departure. Bill Gates was also there. That was enough to guarantee a rapt audience.
What seems to be different is that people are not just wringing their hands about Africa and wondering if it will ever get out from under its corruption and debt burden. They are
talking up good news. Immunization is improving, education is more widespread and money is moving in.
I asked Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete — Davos is that kind of place — whether things really were getting better sub-Sahara. He said yes, at least compared with a few years ago.
(Pictures: Bono wanders through the crowd (left), Blair and Bono (Reuters/right)

It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it

Jan 26, 2007 18:32 UTC

minks.jpgSome glitz has turned up at Davos. Claudia Schiffer is here to talk about the environment.

But anyone hoping for a bit of catwalk razzle dazzle is likely to be disappointed. The dress code at Davos in general is a struggle. A lot of suits, of course, and Bono wearing his trademark, tinted, orange glasses.

Some effort is being made to dress down, but it mainly entails the shock-horror of taking a tie off.

Avatars of the world unite!

Jan 26, 2007 15:38 UTC
A single demonstrator has broken through the World Economic Forum’s otherwise thorough security cordon, sneaking past rows of efficient guards to wave a large anti-Davos placard right in the temple itself.

Ok, so he’s an avatar (online alter ego). But he still did it. luemmel Lemmon of the WEF protest group DaDavos walked into the Second Life virtual auditorium where Adam Reuters has been interviewing avatars of Davos participants. No security there, and barely any rules either.

Davos protest Lemmon sat politely with his banner in the front row. Rather wonderfully, as our picture (left) shows, he chose to sit next to one of the few avatars choosing to wear a suit.

A babble of bloggers at Davos

Jan 26, 2007 13:40 UTC

The idea of bloggers writing about bloggers is less than bracing, but at Davos the phenomenon is so widespread and talked about that Monty Python’s Spam sketch comes to mind – blog, blog, blog, blog etc.

It is actually next to impossible to calculate how many people are blogging the event. As well as high profile media companies, Reuters, the BBC, Swiss TV, Forbes, CNN and so on, there are untold babbles of individuals out there. What is the collective noun for bloggers, while we’re thinking about it? A nuisance of bloggers, perhaps. Suggestions welcome.

Anyway, the Davos organisers have been in at the beginning on this. Their main blog page has more than 15 official contributors and links to many others. The page has had 21,000 hits so far. It also leads you to Davos Conversation, a site set up by the World Economic Forum and others to bring in about everyone else talking about Davos that they can. It’s interesting that instead of taking part in the myriad discussions going on here, many people are diving out to see what everyone’s saying in the blogosphere instead, as this WEF staffer was right next to me (below).


Jan 26, 2007 11:01 UTC

The titles of panel meetings at the World Economic Forum can sometimes be pretty dire. Frankly, “Strategies for a New Power Equation” or “The Future of Urban Mobility” do not really set the pulse racing. So it was with some delight that I came across this gem being moderated by Laura Tyson, Bill Clinton’s former economic adviser — “Is Freedom Overrated?”

The mere idea is enough to raise the hackles of any self-respecting civil libertarian and could get Davos sceptics mumbling deep thoughts about what all these powerful people really want. But the issue that really lies behind the catchy title is not that clear-cut and has been exercising great philosphical minds such as those of Hobbes and Locke for centuries. It’s all about individual rights versus the common good.

The DavosRTR1LLWC.jpg debate was not expected to solve the problem, of course. But some of the ideas expressed at the panel were worth noting. Cheng Siwei, vice chairman of the Chinese congress’s powerful standing committee, opined that individual freedom could not be put above the national benefit. But he then said that this applied mainly to security issues and should not be used by governments as an excuse.

Getting decidedly nervous on Doha talks

Jan 25, 2007 22:40 UTC

davos3.jpgA few things are becoming clear as the WEF’s annual meeting slides out of its second day. For one, businesses are getting decidedly nervous about the possibility that the Doha Trade round will not restart.
    Microsoft’s Bill Gates had a private chat with World Trade Organisation director general Pasal Lamy on the sidelines here.
Gates was coy about the meeting but it came as other very interested parties started to get the gloves out. Fifteen heavy hitters, including bosses from Unilever, British Airways, Alcoa and Goldman Sach made it clear they had had enough of stalled trade negotiations.
    Words like “damage”, “destruction” and “failure” peppered a joint statement that had some here noting that business was suddenly realising that Doha, which is stalled, could end completely. Trade ministers meet at the weekend.
    Climate change is the other big item. Although some have
complained that it is simply a trendy subject, it is a top item. That can be seen from Chinese officials pledging to have the huge developing market become more efficient in energy use — even if they reckon the big job is for the West.
    Bono and Blair get their turn on Friday so Africa may get its moment in the snow.


Trekking up a Swiss hill for Nasdaq

Jan 25, 2007 16:06 UTC

Why do we journalists always fall for it? Nasdaq, the U.S.
stock market group, just persuaded a bunch of us to trek way up a steep, slippery hillside in the cold to watch them open trading against a backdrop of yodel-ay-ee-oo Switzerland. There we were, TV cameras rolling and stills snapping (or whatever digitals do), while corporate America waved, yelled and grinned in front of us.

Actually, as a PR stunt it was pretty good. Nasdaq likes to
call itself a virtual market model and reckons a Swiss hillside
is as good a place as any to show that it can get global traders off to a start wherever it wants.

Coincidently (because they did the same thing last year) it
also showed their European aspirations. It is embroiled in a
hostile takeover bid for the London Stock Exchange for a start. I had hoped that the “High Tea” on offer to guests beforehand was a dig at Britain but it turned out more Davosian with chocolates and champagne.

Stars in their eyes

Jan 25, 2007 12:17 UTC

I didn’t come out here to go celeb-spotting but the fact that celebrities are short on the ground in Davos hasn’t escaped the notice of some of the myriad journalists and bloggers following events at the World Economic Forum.

While it’s possibly true that this year’s event may be lacking in true A list attendees my colleague Mark Jones notes there are still plenty of potential stars to be found among those who have bothered to show up in Davos. His trawl of the blogosphere produces a few surprises.

Mark was most struck by Jane Martinson in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, who decides that  a new star is born: