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"We missed the warning signs"


Davos and the financial crisis are inseparable, according to André Schneider, managing director of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The former classical musician and IT specialist, who has worked for the forum since 1998 and has been a board member since 2003, also told swissinfo why everyone should admit fault.

This year's forum, which will be held in the Swiss resort of Davos from January 28 to February 1, has as its theme "Shaping the Post-Crisis World".

More than 2,500 participants from 96 countries will attend the five-day meeting, including 41 heads of state or government, 60 ministers, 30 heads or senior officials of international organisations and 10 ambassadors.

swissinfo: This year's annual meeting has drawn a record attendance. Why is that?

André Schneider: In a crisis – such as the one we're currently experiencing – there is a considerable amount of uncertainty. People feel the need to talk to each other. They realise the importance of talking to other economic sectors and other parts of the world, in addition to government representatives and civil society.

This forum is a unique place where all these people can get together informally and analyse how it's come to this and discuss possible solutions on where to go next and how.

swissinfo: But the people at Davos are largely responsible for the crisis, aren't they?

A.S.: They are there because they have to be actively involved in finding a solution. These are the leaders of global finance. It's not possible to work on a future solution if you exclude a sector that is very important for all of us – as the crisis shows!

On the other hand, several participants from other sectors, who have been affected by the consequences of the crisis, were not involved during its initial stages. But let's be fair: not everyone involved in the economy played a role in the unexpected arrival of this crisis. They are suffering as well.

swissinfo: But what can Davos do when faced with a systemic crisis which has completely changed our ways of thinking?

A.S.: First of all Davos can launch a discussion on the short-term actions which are currently being taken. All the same, you have to remember that the onset of this crisis was linked to the very low key interest rates set by the Federal Reserve. We have to ensure that the decisions we take today don't provoke the next crisis, which, judging by experience, will be even worse.

Second, Davos allows a discussion on the possible form of future economic practices – practices that will have to integrate levels of durability. If we need economic growth to respond to the large global challenges, we also need to think about the shape of a durable economy that would integrate climate and ecological challenges.

swissinfo: Hardly anyone saw the crisis coming – including those at Davos...

A.S.: That's not true. We spoke about it in the previous two annual meetings and held very critical debates on the issue. But the entire world should hold their hands up: we failed to hear critical voices and the warning signs that were there.

It's also necessary to understand that the WEF is not a government. We don't take any decisions. We try to stimulate critical debates which enable decision-makers to identify potential challenges and risks.

Last year we clearly saw that when everyone is thinking along the same lines – because it's easier politically – it's very difficult to get this type of message across.

With the crisis in mind, this year people at Davos might listen to these critical voices better and integrate more successfully the real challenges which were discussed last year but which no one has considered.

swissinfo: Isn't there a risk that the economic and financial crises will mean other problems will be forgotten?

A.S.: That's a challenge for us. It's necessary to discuss the economic and financial crises but we must not forget the other important challenges: climate change, the food crisis, the energy crisis, water and many others. They are not going to disappear by themselves.

Failure to find a solution to the economic and financial crises, that will integrate these various challenges better, will be to prepare for the next crisis in five years, then the next – and they're just going to get worse.

swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson

World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum started life as the European Management Forum in 1971. Formed by German-born businessman Professor Klaus Schwab, the forum was designed to connect European business leaders to their counterparts in the United States to find ways of boosting connections and solving problems.

It is a non-profit organisation headquartered in Geneva that is funded by the varying subscription fees of its members.

The forum took its current name in 1987 as it broadened its horizons to providing a platform for finding solutions to international disputes. WEF claims to have helped calm disputes between Turkey and Greece, north and south Korea, east and west Germany and in South Africa during the apartheid regime.

WEF conducts detailed global and country specific reports and conducts other research for its members. It also hosts a number of annual meetings – the flagship being Davos at the beginning of each year.

In 2002, this meeting was moved to New York for a one-off change of venue to support the city following the 9/11 terrorist attacks of the previous year.

Davos has attracted a number of big names in the world of business, academia, politics and show business. These include: Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bono, Angela Merkel, Bill Gates and Sharon Stone.

As the forum grew in size and status in the 1990s, it attracted rising criticism from anti-globalisation groups, complaining of elitism and self-interest among participants.

The 2009 WEF in Davos will be held from January 28 to February 1.

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