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Davos forum ends on upbeat note

President Joseph Deiss was one of five Swiss ministers in Davos Keystone Archive

Five days of debate, more than 250 sessions and a flurry of high-level political meetings have come to an end at the 34th summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

This content was published on January 26, 2004 - 08:57

And, as the mountain resort returns to normal, most will be wondering whether the meeting has achieved any concrete results.

“The mood is more important than the facts,” said Philippe Bourguignon, the WEF’s co-chief executive officer.

“The facts may be extremely difficult to face, but if you face them in a good psychological environment, you add positive things,” he added.

This year’s agenda was heavy with debates about the colossal challenges of reconstructing Iraq, world trade and the rift between Europe and the United States.

With more than 2,100 of the world’s most powerful business and political leaders present, many outside the forum could be forgiven for expecting solid results.

Trade talks

Switzerland’s official delegation included no less than five of the country’s seven cabinet ministers.

The president and economics minister, Joseph Deiss, hosted a series of talks with world leaders during the week.

Significantly, Deiss also organised a meeting of 19 trade ministers and officials from around the world, aimed at revitalising the current round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks.

Negotiations on a new global trade deal floundered last year amid disagreements over farm subsidies in Europe and the United States.

The ministers used Davos to call for fresh action between the WTO’s 146 member states and to ensure the next 12 months are not wasted.

If their call is heeded, the organisers of Davos can claim a measure of the credit.

Transatlantic tension

Likewise, this year’s summit was billed as an opportunity to help rebuild transatlantic relations frayed by differences over last year’s war in Iraq.

The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, was dispatched to Davos by the White House to deliver a message of conciliation.

Cheney, on only his second trip outside the US in three years, urged Europe to work with the US on tackling terrorism and to assist in promoting democracy in the Middle East.

“We call upon our democratic friends and allies everywhere, and in Europe in particular, to join us in this effort," Cheney told the forum.

Some commentators said the speech reflected a new willingness from the Bush administration to engage in dialogue with the European Union.

Cheney’s presence may also have helped temper some of the fierce anti-Americanism that dominated the forum’s summit 12 months ago, as the war in Iraq loomed.

“Deep disquiet”

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told swissinfo that there appeared to be recognition “that Europe and America have to find ways to work together, despite differences”.

“There is a bit more conciliation, but it doesn’t overcome the fact that there is still deep disquiet here and concern about the approach of the Bush administration and its unilateralism,” he said.

However, the reconciliatory symbolism of Cheney’s visit may have been diminished by the lack of European leaders at this year’s summit.

The leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy were all conspicuously absent in Davos, a problem forum organisers hope to solve in future years.

Geneva Accord

The Swiss-brokered Israeli-Palestinian agreement, known as the Geneva Accord, was also a regular topic for debate in Davos.

Former US president, Bill Clinton said the unofficial agreement represented a yearning for a solution.

Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said it had a “fundamental pedagogical value”, by forcing both sides to think about the sacrifices needed to find an agreement.

Marwan Jamil Muasher, Jordan’s foreign minister, also supported the accord, saying it resolved “every single” issue in the conflict.

“It proves that there are reasonable people on both sides that do not belong to governments,” he said.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber in Davos

In brief

The 34th World Economic Forum summit ran from January 21 to 25 in Davos.

Five out of the seven Swiss ministers took part. More than 2,000 political and business leaders attended.

Speakers included UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the US vice-president, Dick Cheney.

Police said a demonstration on Sunday by around 1,200 anti-WEF protesters in the eastern town of Chur had passed off relatively peacefully, with only a few broken windows.

However, officers fired water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas in the small town of Landquart after demonstrators returning to Zurich vandalised a train.

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