Joe Biden: Putin working to undermine European project

Middle classes in ‘crisis’, IMF’s Christine Lagarde tells World Economic Forum in Davos

Outgoing US vice president at the World Economic Forum: he called on Europe and the US to come together and renew the “fight for democracy wherever it is under threat”. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Outgoing US vice president at the World Economic Forum: he called on Europe and the US to come together and renew the “fight for democracy wherever it is under threat”. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

 

Outgoing US vice president Joe Biden used one of his final official appearances to launch a vigorous attack on Russia, accusing Russian president Vladimir Putin of working to undermine the European project and exploit differences between nations.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos just two days before president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president, Mr Biden said Russia was trying to return to a politics “defined by spheres of influence”.

He called on Europe and the United States to come together and renew the “fight for democracy wherever it is under threat” and underscored the importance of European unity.

His comments were widely seen as a rebuke to incoming president Donald Trump who has previously expressed admiration for the Russian president and publicly questioned the cohesion of the European Union.

Describing Nato as the “single greatest bulwark” of the transatlantic relationship, Mr Biden said that the organisation’s dictum that an attack on one member is an attack on all was a “sacred obligation” that “can never be placed into question”. He added that America’s commitment to Nato, founded in 1949 in the wake of the second World War, had bipartisan support in the United States.

Growing inequality

Mr Biden also used his final official speech to address the growing inequality in wealth distribution that has overshadowed this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

He accused the top 1 per cent of “not carrying their weight” and called for a fairer system of taxation to ensure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes.  Noting that  unskilled workers are losing their jobs, while higher-paid skilled workers are getting paid more and more, he said that globalisation “had not been an unalloyed good”.

But in a tacit allusion to Mr Trump, he warned that the impulse to “hunker down, build walls” was precisely the wrong answer.

The theme of globalisation and the challenges facing the middle classes was a theme throughout the day at the second full day of the forum.

Technological advances

Earlier, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said that the middle class, particularly in advanced economies, was “in crisis”. But she warned against turning against globalisation, noting that technological advances were behind most of the changes in job patterns in recent years.

Harvard professor Larry Summers said there was no “magic bullet” to solve the problems besetting the middle class but he said that there was a pervasive feeling that the government was not fighting for its people. “They feel that everyone else is being looked after. . . They feel that they are not being heard.”

However, he warned that populism did not provide the answer to those struggling.

“The lesson of history is overwhelming – classic populism is invariably counterproductive for those in whose name it is offered as a policy regime.”