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World Economic Forum decamps to New York

The WEF has stamped its colours across New York's Waldorf Astoria. swiss-image.ch

The World Economic Forum summit in New York is to focus on economic concerns and international tension following the September 11 attacks.

This content was published on January 31, 2002 - 18:30

The Forum, which kicked off on Thursday, normally holds its yearly summit in the mountain resort of Davos in eastern Switzerland, but it has moved to New York this year in a show of solidarity after the attacks. There were also concerns about security in Davos.

The theme of this year's meeting is "Leadership in Fragile Times: A Vision for a Shared Future." The organisation says debate will centre on how to tackle the challenges faced by the world in the aftermath of September 11.

More than 2,000 participants from business, politics, academia, religion and other fields will take part in the five-day gathering to be opened by the Swiss president, Kaspar Villiger, the WEF president, Klaus Schwab, and the Governor of New York, George Pataki.

Other high-profile international participants include the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, King Abdullah II of Jordan and former US president, Bill Clinton.

As well as Mr Villiger, the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin and foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, will also attend.

Fight against terror

Political and economic leaders will be joined by those from other fields such as the Irish rock star and activist, Bono, who will take part in the opening plenary "For Hope".

The Forum says leaders will discuss the need to strike a balance between the fight against terror and the necessity of protecting human rights, privacy and individual freedom. Another focus will be the global economic slowdown and the actions needed to foster a sustained recovery.

Like other international summits, the World Economic Forum has had security issues, such as violent clashes between police and anti-globalisation protesters. Last year, riots occurred in Zurich after the authorities in Davos banned demonstrations for the Forum's duration.

Demonstrations are also likely in New York as critics continue to see the Forum as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. Many non-governmental organisations see it as an elitist and secretive body that is used to exclude the world's poor from economic decision-making.

Greenpeace has this year decided not to attend the event after complaining that the Forum had failed to follow up on climate change discussions last year. The environmental organisation is instead taking part in the parallel World Social Forum being held in Porto Alegre in Brazil.

Alternative meeting

The Public Eye on Davos, a Swiss organisation, is also holding an alternative meeting in New York.

Swiss ministers in New York are keen to secure the Forum's permanent return to Davos. After discussions between the government and the Forum, WEF has already announced its return in 2003 but its long-term commitment to remain in Switzerland is still in doubt.

The price for the Forum's return was a decision by the Government to assume around half the security costs of the Davos summit: about SFr3 to SFr4 million. The canton of Graubünden and the resort of Davos will also contribute to the bill.

In addition, the government has decided to back a foundation called "In the Spirit of Davos" to try to encourage a dialogue between the Forum and its critics. Bern will give SFr100,000 to the foundation, while canton Graubünden and Davos will both give similar amounts.

by Michael Hollingdale

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