Time to Tackle Tough Choices

Jan 25 2005

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Jan (IPS) – The international business and political leaders who will gather this week in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum (WEF) will be called upon to â€?take responsibility for tough choices,â€? said the event’s founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab.

The 34th annual WEF, taking place as always in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, will address �generational issues and problems, such as global warming, Africa, formal social security systems, water security, and so on,� said Schwab.

But the Swiss branch of the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC), a leader in the global anti-debt movement, stresses that the WEF participants are the very same individuals whose actions deny the world’s peoples access to such vital rights as water, food, health care, education and the freedom of movement.

ATTAC and other Swiss civil society groups gathered last weekend in the capital, Bern, for an anti-WEF demonstration.

Schwab announced that this year’s meeting would tackle a long and varied agenda of issues, including the emergence of China on the world stage and the significant role played by Asia.

Various issues related to Europe and its role in the world will also be addressed, along with broader themes such as world trade, the global economy, global governance, and �equal globalisation�, he said.

The participants will discuss the Middle East and recent developments there, including opportunities for the peace process to move forward, as well as the challenges and debates within Islam.

They will also reflect on the current U.S. leadership and its role, with the aim of reaching �a better understanding of the agenda of the new Bush administration,� said Schwab.

According to ATTAC-Switzerland’s Alessandro Pelizzari, the business and political leaders who will gather in Davos to debate these issues are the ones responsible for the increasingly aggressive imposition of â€?neoliberal and imperialist policiesâ€? on the rest of the world, pursuing their goal to an ever greater extent through violence and war.

Opposition to the neoliberal globalisation project symbolised by Davos led to the founding in 2001 of the World Social Forum (WSF), the civil society alternative meeting that is returning to its original venue of Porto Alegre, Brazil, this year, and expecting to attract more than 100,000 participants.

As usual, the WSF has been scheduled to take place simultaneously with the WEF, from Jan. 26-31.

In response to the frequent criticisms that the WEF represents the world’s business and political elites, Schwab countered that this year’s meeting will feature a â€?strong voice from developing countries,â€? pointing to the participation of presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.

The developing countries will not only be represented on a government level, but also on a civil society level, he added, with the participation of 60 â€?social entrepreneursâ€? — people who run businesses that are not aimed at making a profit, but rather at serving a cause.

Furthermore, the Davos Forum is a �multi-stakeholder platform�, and, unlike the Porto Alegre meeting, it is not based on one specific ideology, Schwab maintained.

Of the more than 2,000 people expected at the WEF, at least 50 percent will be business representatives who pay 44,000 dollars each to observe or take part in the debates, and perhaps to have the chance to rub shoulders with the government leaders in attendance.

Frederic Sicre, the managing director of the WEF, noted that the governmental contingent at this year’s meeting will feature significant participation by the Group of 20 (G20), an alliance of developing countries led by Brazil, India, China and South Africa that has pushed agricultural trade issues to the forefront in World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations.

The G20 is sending 10 finance ministers, 12 trade ministers and two foreign ministers to Davos, Sicre said, adding that this marked presence of the developing world �shows the dimension that we are giving this year in terms of looking at economic and trade issues rather than just political issues per se.�

Nevertheless, as is typically the case in Davos, the discussion of certain themes will be limited to a reduced group of �senior figures� in government, business and academia.

Rick Samans, managing director of the WEF’s Global Institute for Partnership and Governance, said that one of the issues to be addressed with high-level participants is â€?the nature of the struggle against terrorism.â€?

�Does it constitute a world war as some fervently believe,� he asked, �or does it constitute some other type of effort that has other implications for foreign policy, economic policy, international security, and civil rights and liberties?�

An opinion poll commissioned by the WEF and conducted among the business and political leaders who will be gathering in Davos this week revealed that most have a pessimistic outlook on international security.

The greatest concerns for 2005 are an increase in terrorism and the spread of the war in Iraq to other parts of the world.


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