Global leaders and major public figures are gathering in Davos, Switzerland to attend the annual World Economic Forum. This year’s forum welcomed some 3,000 participants and will host roughly 350 sessions.
Sputnik discussed this year's gathering with Simon Tormey, a professor at the Department of Government and IR, School of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Arts, and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney.
Simon Tormey: It's interesting to use the idea of globalisation as a reset, isn't it? So, clearly there's a feeling that we've come to an end of a particular period of globalisation, and now we need to reboot it along new lines. I think very much they're thinking about the new technologies, about automation, about digital technologies and all the rest of it. But really, the whole thing is being overshadowed by the larger geopolitical questions, which have really undermined globalisation as we've known it for the last 30-40 years.
AP Photo / Michael Kappeler
That, of course, is the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, and the kind of cataclysmic events going on in Europe at the moment, Brexit and all sorts of authoritarian threats around the world. So, the problem is that what looked like a fairly smooth-running process, as far as elites are concerned, is now overshadowed with geopolitical tension and also these new kinds of concern, like the impact of technology and automation that the elites need to take on board.
Sputnik: The German defence minister pointed out in her article to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting that Europe must stay united, as the world is becoming more polarized. How capable is Europe of remaining a single front, especially against the backdrop of tensions with the United States?
AFP 2019 / Kazuhiro Nogi
Europe is probably going through its most difficult phase for quite some time. It's difficult to think, certainly in my personal lifetime, of a period when it seemed to be quite as unstable as it is now. And if we think about the threats within Europe, things like Angela Merkel going into retirement, the protests against Macron, Brexit, and the whole set of issues around Eastern and Central European countries and the degree to which they are committed to European values and so on, I think Europe has really got big problems ahead of it; and 2019 is going to be a very interesting year in terms of keeping the show on the road.
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To me, the headline should be in 2019 stabilizing a group of 27 countries who are quite different, making sure that the monetary and fiscal policies are in order to survive any kind of external threats, trade wars and so on; and then very gently to think about what other kinds of matters they can take on common concern. And I think particularly issues around migration, and probably defence, are going to be the two big items that they need to be thinking about this year.
Sputnik: Notably, US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron will be absent from this year's forum. What impact could it have on the event and could it provide more spotlight for other countries?
Sputnik / Alexey Vitvitsky
Well it's true, those are three big personalities, big countries which are going to be missing. I don't think that helps in terms of giving a profile and importance to proceedings. But you're right, and we know that, for example, Jair Bolsonaro, the new president of Brazil, will get a chance to impress the global elites with his pitch; and of course they are interested to see whether his right-wing more neo-liberal approach is going to gain interaction with his own population and whether market-based reforms can be a model for Latin America and probably for the BRICS countries more generally.
I think also what we got to be interested in hearing and listening about more at Davos may be the contribution from industry leaders in technology, biotech and biomedicine — those kinds of areas, which are emerging areas that hopefully are going to provide some of those new jobs which we're going to need to prevent global unemployment from emerging.
Sputnik: Some analysts criticize the forum, expressing scepticism about whose interests it serves. How grounded is this scepticism, in your view? Whose interests does it serve?
AP Photo / Kamil Zihnioglu
Davos is an elite gathering. I think the problem for us, those of us outside the elites, is that some of the forums and some of the mechanisms by which ordinary citizens can make themselves heard have disappeared. I participated myself in the World Social Forum, which was designed to be a sort of a mirror image of civil society versus the elites; and that was quite useful, because it gave us the impression that there was a forum or a space in which people could dialogue and learn from each other in terms of global civil society initiatives. And if we don't have those kinds of forums, if we don't have space for the expression of what it is that citizens are feeling, then, of course, we apprehend this as a very distant, rather elitist kind of undertaking.
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So, I think I'm quite sympathetic to those people who say "this is the global wealthy chin wagging here in some comfort in Switzerland, and what about having a little bit more space, a little bit more of an imaginary kind of mechanism for allowing citizens to participate?" Some online mechanisms would be good, for example; or getting some other actors and participants to take part in those debates.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Simon Tormey and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.