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Davos debates difficult times

World leaders, CEOs and NGO chiefs are at the World Economic Forum in Davos, considering responses to a rapidly changing political and economic world.

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Davos debates difficult times

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WITH DAVOS REPORTING BY SARAH CHAPPELL

Point of view

People are coming here and at least trying to the best of their abilities to figure out the challenges ahead

Lee Howell Managing Director, World Economic Forum

The global elite have descended on snowy Davos in Switzerland once again for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

World leaders, CEOs and NGO chiefs are all gathered to grapple with the tumultuous events of 2016 and attempt to anticipate the political and economic trends likely to shape 2017.

This year’s forum theme is ‘Responsible and Responsive Leadership’.

Lee Howell, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum explained the thinking behind that: “Commitment is not a word, it’s an action. And people are coming here and at least trying to the best of their abilities to figure out the challenges ahead. It’s not just governments doing this, it’s not just business, it’s not just the academics or the social entrepreneurs. It’s actually all of them, coming together – because we have to think about this collectively.”

This year is the biggest forum to date with a record 3,000 participants taking part in four days of panel discussions, lunches and cocktail parties. More than a third of those are representing groups that are outside business and government.

But there is one notable absentee, as Euronews’ Sarah Chappell reported from Davos: “Leadership is the theme and one leader is looming larger than all the rest at this year’s Davos – and he’s not even here. Days ahead of his inauguration, US President-elect Donald Trump is the talk of the town, dominating discussions about geopolitics and the global economy for the year ahead.”

Populism’s poster child casts a long shadow

Trump’s election, less than half a year after Britain voted to leave the European Union, was a slap at the principles that elites in Davos have long held dear, from globalisation and free trade to multilateralism.

Trump is the poster child for a new strain of populism that is spreading across the developed world and threatening the post-war liberal democratic order. With elections looming in the Netherlands, France, Germany, and possibly Italy, this year, the nervousness among Davos attendees is palpable.

“Regardless of how you view Trump and his positions, his election has led to a deep, deep sense of uncertainty and that will cast a long shadow over Davos,” said Jean-Marie Guehenno, CEO of International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution think-tank.

Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was even more blunt: “There is a consensus that something huge is going on, global and in many respects unprecedented. But we don’t know what the causes are, nor how to deal with it.”

The titles of the discussion panels at the WEF, which runs from Jan. 17-20, evoke the unsettling new landscape. Among them are ‘Squeezed and Angry: How to Fix the Middle Class Crisis’, ‘Politics of Fear or Rebellion of the Forgotten?’, ‘Tolerance at the Tipping Point?’ and ‘The Post-EU Era’.