Europe’s top brass to skip Davos as China takes up globalisation torch

Xi Jinping will attend the forum, the first time a Chinese president participates in the gathering. The meeting will conclude hours before Barack Obama leaves the White House and Donald Trump takes over the US presidency. [The White House/YouTube]

Few leaders from Europe’s largest countries and EU institutions will attend the elite gathering in Davos next week (17-20 January), despite the fact that the threat of populism is expected to be high on the agenda.

The World Economic Forum represents not only a unique opportunity to gauge global risks and challenges, but a chance to foresee transformations in the power balance among global players.

This year, the overarching theme is “Responsive and Responsible Leadership.”

The gathering, to take place in the Swiss Alps, will wrap up just hours before Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th US president on 20 January.

2017 seen as turning point for liberal democracies

Western democracies will be further challenged next year, as populist parties are expected to make gains in Europe, while China and Russia increasingly set the global agenda, taking advantage of a US withdrawal.

During his campaign, the outspoken mogul championed less activism abroad and more protectionism in trade relations with third countries.

Against this backdrop, Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the forum with a clear message to world leaders: Beijing is willing to take over as champion of globalisation and multilateralism.

The US retreat from global affairs, and the political instability in Europe, has created a vacuum on the global stage that Mr Xi is willing to fill. It will be the first time that a Chinese president will have attended the Davos forum.

But the US could still turn up with a strong delegation at this year’s edition, led by outgoing Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, according to sources familiar with the agenda.

Trump would be represented by Anthony Scaramucci, a member of his transition team.

Europe’s timid voice

The US and China’s strong presence in Davos will contrast with a somewhat limited selection of Europe’s top brass.

So far, Theresa May (Britain), Mark Rutte (The Netherlands), Enda Kenny (Ireland), Stefan Löfven (Sweden), Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg), Charles Michel (Belgium) and Andrej Plenkovic (Croatia) are expected to travel to Davos.

The heads of the EU institutions are not expected to attend the summit.

The Commission will be represented by a dozen Commissioners, including five vice-presidents (except Jyrki Katainen).

Member states will be represented mainly by their finance ministers, including Wolfgang Schäuble (Germany), Michel Sapin (France), Pier Carlo Padoan (Italy) and Luis de Guindos (Spain).

Eurogroup President, and Dutch Minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, will be there too.

An estimated 50 heads of state or government and hundreds of top business people met at the forum last year.

Davos wrap-up: Instability becomes the 'new normal'

The 2016 World Economic Forum, which concluded on Saturday (23 January), looked at a 21st century economy led by robots and artificial intelligence, against the backdrop of a more unstable and unequal world. 

The list of VIP participants for 2017 includes the heads of the IMF (Christine Lagarde), NATO (Jens Stoltenberg) and the OECD (Angel Gurría).

The leaders of Paraguay, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Pakistan, Ukraine, South Africa, Vietnam and Ivory Coast will also attend the forum.

Some of the figures expected to grab more media attention are the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and the President of Colombia and winner of 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, Juan Manuel Santos.

The Davos forum brings together political leaders, CEOs and presidents of the largest multinationals, monarchs, and celebrities involved in social causes.

Next week, Shakira and Queen Rania of Jordan will be among the VIP delegation that will travel to the ski resort.

For the World Economic Forum, "Responsive and Responsible Leadership" requires recognising that frustration and discontent are increasing in the segments of society that are not experiencing economic development and social progress. Their situation will only become more uncertain with the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its impact on future employment.

The organisation adds that "Responsive and Responsible Leadership" entails a deeper commitment to inclusive development and equitable growth, both nationally and globally. It also involves working rapidly to close generational divides by exercising shared stewardship of those systems that are critical to our prosperity.

"In the end, leaders from all walks of life at the Annual Meeting 2017 must be ready to react credibly and responsibly to societal and global concerns that have been neglected for too long," the forum stated.

  • 17-20 January: World Economic Forum (Davos).
  • 20 January: Donald Trump assumes the US presidency.

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