Davos 2020 diary – day #2

U.S. president Donald Trump leaves the congress hall during the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, 21 January 2020. The meeting brings together entrepreneurs, scientists, corporate and political leaders in Davos from January 21 to 24. [EPA-EFE/GIAN EHRENZELLER]

Welcome to Davos where the 50th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is taking place between 21-25 January. Throughout the week, EURACTIV gives you a glimpse into one of the world’s most exclusive conferences where political and business leaders meet every year to discuss global economic trends.

Trump will win. US President Donald Trump was the main attraction of the Forum’s opening day. Speaking to EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero after his speech, Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group, a consultancy, said that the US president is “clearly more comfortable” in Davos than two years ago, when he addressed the global elite for the first time. The start of the impeachment process in the US Senate on Tuesday did not alter his temper on the stage.

The feeling seems to be reciprocal, because the Davos community is “mostly more comfortable with him now”, not as a person but about his policies, Bremmer added.

“I’m talking about tax policy and regulatory policy, I’m talking broadly about the FED appointees, he’s made all of that sort of things right”

But world leaders may also be restoring their relationship with Trump with one eye looking beyond November’s elections. 

“They think he’s going to win. Generally speaking, the mood here is that he probably gets a second term, and they’re more concerned about the left wing of the Democratic Party,” Bremmer added.

Trump’s speech happened hours before he met with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Bremmer recalled that Trump is “fundamentally opposed to a strong Europe”.

“I frankly think that is wrong. I think it’s wrong particularly because of the Chinese challenge on standard setting, the international architecture or on technology, we need to have a strong Europe,” he added.

But Bremmer pointed out that the US is “increasingly more powerful” in comparison with its allies thanks to its energy independence, its food production and the dominance of the dollar in the global economy. 

“I don’t think the Europeans appreciate the implications of that,” he warned. “The unilateralism that informs Trumpism is something that’s not going to go away when Trump is no longer president.”

It happened. Trump and climate activist Greta Thunberg were in the same room together and it happened during the US president’s special address to Forum.

Thunberg gave her second address in Davos early in the morning and arrived right on time to the main hall to join the crowd waiting for Trump. And he did not disappoint.

The US president did not refer to climate change but he did attack “the alarmists”, “yesterday’s foolish fortune-tellers”… Those, Trump said, “want to see us do badly,” and demand “absolute power to dominate, transform, and control every aspect of our lives.”

“We don’t let that happen,” he insisted, adding “we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse.”

Spotted. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was there to listen to Trump and did not pass up the opportunity to have a chat with Trump’s daughter and close advisor, Ivanka. Borisov also was seen affectionately greeting Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, who is in Davos too.

Thunberg calls for action. “The climate and environment is a hot topic right now, thanks to young people pushing,” Thunberg said. “From another perspective, pretty much nothing has been done,” she regretted before a packed room, which included King Philip of Belgium.

“This is not about right or left, we couldn’t care less about your party politics. From a sustainability prospect, the right, the left and the centre they all have failed,” she said in a later speech the same day.

She urged WEF participants to stop investing, stop subsiding and start phasing out fossil fuels. “We don’t want this to be done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021. We want this to be done now,” the activist stressed.

“Our house is still on fire, your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour and we are telling you to act as if you love your children above anything else.”

But the Swedish teenager is not alone. The Forum has brought together a group of young talented people committed to fighting for a better world.

First transatlantic date. Von der Leyen was not present during Trump’s speech but she met the US president later, for the first time since she was confirmed as the head of the EU executive. The former German defence minister and Trump vowed to strengthen transatlantic relations following a rough patch between Washington and Brussels.

We reported on the details of the meeting between the two.

A busy agenda for Sassoli. European Parliament President David Sassoli joined the EU delegation to the WEF. The EU assembly chief had a busy in Davos where he met philanthropist and politician Al Gore, Vietnam’s deputy PM Truong Hoa Binh, as the Parliament committee gave its consent to trade deals with the Southeast Asian country, and Apple CEO Tim Cook with whom Sassoli discussed “regulating tech giants, copyright, and taxes to be paid where profits are made.”

IMF call for public investment. Monetary policy is nearing the limits of its capacity to lift sluggish growth. IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath recommended in Davos introducing “more automatism” in national expenditure to relaunch national economies, writes Jorge Valero.

“Now it will be a good time to think about more cyclical rules,” she added. Gopinath later clarified to EURACTIV that the goal is not to introduce pro-cyclical rules that would aggravate austerity cuts in times of a recession, for example, as the IMF has been accused of during the crisis in bailout countries, especially Greece.

It’s the finance sector, stupid. As business leaders gather in the Swiss mountains to discuss sustainable development, Greenpeace named and shamed dozens of banks taking part in the forum that have millions of dollars invested in fossil fuels.

Outgoing governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said the major questions for investors is how they will get to net zero. “Everyone knows they need a plan.”

Sánchez back to Davos. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will address the Forum for the second time, after his recent reelection and brokering of a coalition with leftist party Podemos. The Spanish premier will regale business leaders with his political agenda.

Von der Leyen’s grand debut. The Commission president will deliver her first speech in Davos as head of the EU executive, where she is expected to present her political agenda, including flagship policy, the European Green Deal. She will be followed by Sassoli, in a special session dedicated to the EU.

A convulsive world. The WEF will unveil on Wednesday (22 January) its geopolitical outlook about the Middle East and Africa, both areas where tensions are growing, particularly in the past few months. Worth keeping an eye on it.

Quote of the day. “My relationship with President Xi is an extraordinary one. He’s for China; I’m for the U.S.  But other than that, we love each other.” No prizes for guessing that this was Donald Trump describing an uptick in relations between Washington and Beijing.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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