Davos 2020 diary – day #3

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and WEF founder Klaus Schwab arrive to attend a plenary session of the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, 22 January 2020. [GIAN EHRENZELLER/EPA]

Welcome to Davos where the 50th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is taking place on 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.

Von der Leyen grand debut. Ursula Von der Leyen made her international debut as president of the European Commission at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday (22 January) where she presented her political agenda to the global economic elite. She focused on climate policy, the digital agenda and her geopolitical ambitions. The “European Green Deal is our new growth strategy,” she told a very selected audience.

European Parliament president David Sassoli took the stage after von der Leyen. His speech was a warning that EU lawmakers will fight the Commission on the Green Deal “to ensure consistency between the diagnosis we all share regarding the climate emergency and the means employed to face it.”

Sassoli strongly highlighted the social dimension of the climate crisis, which he said “is exacerbating the social crisis. Environmental degradation is a social issue.” He argued there that it can only be solved “if we put the reduction of inequality at the centre of political action.”

“Climate challenges and inequality can only be solved together,” the Parliament president argued and called on the EU to lead the way.

Von der Leyen vows a green, digital, geopolitical EU in Davos

Ursula von der Leyen made her international debut as the European Commission chief as she set out her political agenda before the global economic elite at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday (22 January). 

Brexit lapsus. Von der Leyen is apparently so convinced that Brexit is done that she made a lapsus during her address to the Forum, saying the withdrawal agreement had gone through the UK and European parliament’s. The truth is EU lawmakers are set to vote on the divorce next Wednesday (29 January)…

Sánchez presents his coalition to the world. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez took the stage for the second time in Davos to present the coalition he made with leftist Unidas Podemos after being reelected. In his speech, Sánchez advocated for social justice, a greener economy, gender equality and fighting tax avoidance and vowed to stick to fiscal discipline.

Eying the rise of the far-right in Spain, Sánchez called for policymaking to combat populism. “Citizens will believe in democracy if democracy believes in each and every one of them. If it strives to provide them with opportunities,” he said, “growth that widens the social divide is not acceptable.”

His speech was closely followed by the top leaders of the Spanish business and banking community who lined up in the front row, from Ana Botín (Santander) to Josu Jon Imaz (Repsol). The prime minister also met with foreign investors and bankers and briefed them on his economic agenda.


A familiar face in the audience. Former European Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen was spotted in the audience during speeches by Sánchez and von der Leyen. Katainen, in charge of jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness in the Commission of von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claud Juncker, is now president of the Finish innovation fund Sitra.

The digital quagmire. Attempts to tax digital giants have been one of the hottest topics at this year WEF meeting. Despite US threats of imposing further tariffs, France, Italy, Spain and the UK stuck to their guns and said they would go ahead with their national digital tax, as long as there is no international agreement at the OECD level.

“We all have the same view,” France’s Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said during a briefing with journalists in Davos, “if there is a credible solution at the OECD, there is no need for a national one,” he explained. 

We have all the details.

Trump’s big farewell. US President Donald Trump addressed the press in a final conference before leaving Davos and he left with a threat. “The European Union is tougher to deal with than anybody. They’ve taken advantage of our country for many years,” Trump told Fox Business Network. “Ultimately, it will be very easy because if we can’t make a deal, we’ll have to put 25 % tariffs on their cars,” he added.

Trump, who met Ursula Von der Leyen for the first time on Tuesday (21 January), said the Commission president was “nice” but “tough.”. Asked about her predecessor, however, he was not so kind.

“Jean-Claude was a friend of mine, but frankly, it was impossible to get along with him,” he told reporters.

EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero got the president on his way out of the Forum to face an impeachment back home.

A reluctant role model. Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel is one of the EU leaders attending the World Economic Forum. Bettel, who is openly gay, shared his story in a panel looking at the situation of the LGBT community. “I don’t want to be a role model, but being like I am, I can reassure people to be the way they are,” he told the audience.

A royal call for action. His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales launched on Wednesday, in collaboration with World Economic Forum, an initiative aimed at making markets more sustainable to allow for a rapid switch towards decarbonisation.

A recognised environmentalist, the Prince of Wales delivered a powerful speech in his first attendance of the Forum. “Do we want to go down in history as the people who did nothing to bring the world back from the brink, in trying to restore the balance, when we could have done? I don’t want to,” he told the audience.

“Just think for a moment, what good is all the extra wealth in the world gained from business as usual if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions,” his highness stressed.

The consequences of climate changes in the Amazon rainforest -devastated by the fires- and the Arctic -that has lost 50% of ice- were at the core of the discussion in Davos.

Prince Charles took the opportunity to meet climate activist Greta Thunberg, as did long-time advocate for the fight against climate change and former US vice-president Al Gore.


Davos is for dreamers. Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered his first speech in Davos, something he probably never dreamt of back in the days when he was a TV actor. “Ukraine is the place where miracles come true,” he told the audience.

And he dares to dream big for his country. “There is one big country that made an exit from the European Union. Maybe this is a time for Ukraine to enter,” the president told the Forum in reference to the upcoming Brexit.

Quote of the day. “Half of the world’s population cannot continue suffering sexual aggression, employment discrimination and lower-income, but neither can the other half – the men – continue to allow the waste of women’s talents and the flagrant violation of the most basic human rights. It is not fair,” Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said in his special address.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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