Less showbiz, more down to business at World Economic Forum

Davos Diary: Taoiseach and Tánaiste attend event, while Zelenskiy appears by videolink

Maybe it’s the dress code: ski jackets and snow boots out, in favour of normal business attire. Or maybe it doesn’t look particularly good at the moment to be schmoozing on the side of a Swiss mountain as the world grapples with a cost-of-living crisis.

But while the official crowd attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this week – the first since January 2020 – is expected be 2,500, down only 500 from a normal gathering, there is a distinct lack of A-listers in attendance this time around.

Instead of Donald Trump and Swedish teen eco-warrior Greta Thunberg, whose opposing worldviews provided the main storyline to the last WEF, and the usual smattering of major leaders and celebrities like Bono, rapper Will.I.Am, actresses Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie, and British royalty, the WEF this year is headlining with the likes of US climate envoy John Kerry, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and German chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Vaccination

In order to get into the venue, all participants, delegates and media have had to provide evidence of vaccination and a negative PCR test prior to arrival, and take a second Covid-19 test on site.

The organisers were mighty glad to have the virtual address from Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, hot off having been beamed into the Cannes Film Festival last week and various overseas parliaments in recent months, to set the scene on the first morning of the conference on Monday.

While Irish Government figures gave the 2020 WEF a miss as the country was heading into an election, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar are in Europe’s highest town this week.

Varadkar sat on a panel on Monday afternoon, called Revaluing Essential Work, in light of the pandemic, where he highlighted plans to bring in statutory sick pay and ban businesses from using tips and gratuities to make up the basic pay of staff, as well as the setting of a permanent extra public holiday a year as “small things” the Government has been doing to show its appreciation towards those that kept the show on the road during the pandemic.

Cesspit

Meanwhile, Martin is due to sit on a panel on Tuesday morning aimed at discussing whether the European Union, all-too-often a cesspit of infighting, has finally come of age as a “global economic and geopolitical actor”, having shown the world its ability to move with “speed, scale and unity” in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the Covid-19 shock.

The WEF’s founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab has characterised this week’s forum as “the most timely and consequential” in its 52-year history, what with war having returned to Europe and fears mounting about the outlooks for the world economy and climate.

It is also a time when globalisation, the mantra espoused by Davos like few other places, is under more under threat than it has been in decades.