The interconnections that characterise the modern world will figure high on the agenda at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.This content was published on January 22, 2008 - 21:37
The United States subprime mortgage crisis that triggered a credit crunch, the US economy and climate concerns are just three of the issues that will be discussed, the WEF's managing director André Schneider tells swissinfo.
Some 2,500 decision-makers from 88 countries are expected in the alpine town from Wednesday at a meeting where security will be tight.
The first sessions of the 38th annual event begin on Wednesday morning but the official opening took place early in the evening, attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and this year's Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin.
swissinfo: The US subprime crisis, the economic health of the US and state funds are going to keep decision-makers busy in Davos. Will that be at the expense of climate change or humanitarian questions?
André Schneider: Our programme shows that these issues have not been forgotten. They actually play a very important role with prominent guests invited to talk about them.
For example, the two laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 - Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Al Gore – will be attending.
What we want to show all the big leaders from the economy, politics or civil society is just how much all these issues are inter-related. You can no longer separate one from another.
It's obvious, for example, that if we focus too heavily on bio fuels, it will have an impact on food prices. Therefore, we have to talk about this.
It's also true that at present, there is a big need to talk about the consequences of the subprime crisis. Investment vehicles and hedge funds, because of global inter-relations, are capable of endangering a whole sector of the economy.
Discussions this year in Davos will lead to progress in how to create transparency and develop the necessary regulations to avoid a situation in which something small has an impact that's totally out of proportion to the initial problem.
When you look at it, the subprime crisis, which is hurting a bank like UBS, began with a mortgage loan problem that affected only the US.
You can see to what extent we live in a globalised world in which the smallest of problems can have an influence on the rest of the world.
swissinfo: This year you're going to introduce into some of your sessions questions put by the public through videos on YouTube. Isn't this a bit of a gimmick?
A.S.: We've always tried to confront world leaders with the opinion of the man in the street. On several occasions we've done research around the world on various crucial questions to put them before leaders.
The experience with YouTube allows people all over the planet to express their views to Davos. For me, it's another very good way to build a bridge.
swissinfo: The anti-globalisation criticism levelled at the WEF has been running out of steam. Does that suit you or worry you?
A.S.: Much of the criticism at the time was quite justified, in particular the unfair distribution of wealth. We've been able to provide quite a number of solutions. That's one of our roles: discussing the way to find good solutions.
For us, the declining criticism is rather a sign of recognition of our platform – the annual WEF meeting and also our regional meetings. It's recognition of its ability to give answers.
swissinfo: Presidential elections are taking place in the US and Russia this year. The leaders or future leaders concerned are staying at home during the Davos meeting. Won't the event somehow be weakened?
A.S.: Not at all. We'll have an almost record number of ministers or officials from the US, in particular Condoleezza Rice. There will also be a fair number of senators and members from the House of Representatives who will play an important role in the elections.
As our programme indicates, we will on several occasions discuss the expectations of the elections and the demands that may be put to the new president.
As for Russia, the world of business has never been so present in Davos as this year. There will also be a number of government representatives, including the Russian finance minister, Alexei Kudrin.
The Russian and US presidents are not coming but the actors who are crucial to the elections and afterwards will be there. There is no danger as far as the quality of the debates is concerned.
swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson
The annual WEF meeting takes place in Davos from January 23–27.
Those attending include 27 heads of state or government, 113 ministers, the heads of several international organisations, 1,370 business leaders and 340 representatives from civil society (religion, culture and NGOs).
Six of the seven Swiss cabinet members will also be there. The exception is the newly elected Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.
Decision makers will discuss the economy, geopolitics, ecology, business, technology and society at this year's event, which has as its theme "The power of collaborative innovation".
World Economic Forum
The World Economic Forum is a foundation created by 1971 by Professor Klaus Schwab. The WEF was originally known as the European Management Forum.
It has its headquarters in Cologny, near Geneva, and has a staff of almost 300 people.
Its annual budget is more than SFr100 million ($90.88 million), financed in part by its 1,000 company members.
The WEF's motto is "entrepreneurship in the global public interest".
Forum events take place on almost every continent each year, and the annual meeting in Davos is the largest of these.
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