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Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 18:29 GMT
World leaders assess Davos gain
Iraqi opposition party members at Davos
Did the talking tackle the real issues?

Willi has been "ice master" at Davos skating rink for 11 years.

And in between rubbing flaws from the rink's surface, he clears ice and compacted snow from the town's stone steps, making them safe to negotiate.

But not even Willi the human snow plough could have tackled the Arctic perils which dogged the Davos conference hall this week, as US and European leaders examined chilled transatlantic relationships.

And, at the World Economic Forum's annual summit, put them back in the refrigerator.

There is lots of schmoozing, but the value of the schmooze should not be underestimated

Richard Jefferson, molecular biologist
Ohio congressman Rob Portman slipped into the relationship crevasse when he asked "what the world would be like without American power", and not all Europeans seemed to take the question rhetorically.

No big brother bullying, no wagging Yankee fingers over closed markets.

No wrangling over how to bring Iraqi Saddam Hussein to book.

A grain? There was a bushel of truth in a cartoon near the congress hall entrance in which US President George W Bush tells an aide that 90% of Americans wanted a change of leader in Iraq.

The aide replies: "And 90% of Europeans want a change of leader in the US."

And while a speech by US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday stirred emotions, it failed to settle the concerns of European leaders.

Fridge magnet wisdom

Of those Europeans who were at the summit, that is.

Klaus Schwab, forum president
Klaus Schwab: Lack of European delegates

"Europe seems too preoccupied with itself," forum president Klaus Schwab said, bemoaning the continent's, and in particular Germany's, lack of political representation at the summit.

"It was a disappointment for many of the US participants who were here."

The Americans had been at Davos to listen, according to US Attorney General John Ashcroft, before quoting a line from, perhaps appropriately, a fridge magnet: "You never learn anything when your mouth is open."

Yet there were few EU politicos to talk - a shortfall, for once, not considered a blessing.

Spectre of war

What they missed was an encounter with the spectre of an anti-Saddam war, a phantom which haunted every debate, every whitewashed corridor.

In whatever session, on trade, aid or Gatorade, it uttered those three little words "what about Iraq?".

In business you take more and give less. In love you give more and take less

Ravi Shankar, founder, Art of Living Foundation

Unless, that is, they were sessions on Iraq.

A debate involving the head of Opec and Saudi Arabia's energy minister, two of oil's most powerful masters, lapsed into a discussion of Russian pipelines.

And on Tuesday, when Iraqi opposition leaders debated prospects for their country post-Saddam, well, the conference hall was half empty.

The close of Mr Powell's speech had prompted the end of many delegates' participation, and the roll of fleets of silver suitcases from hotel foyers.

Indeed, with the secretary of state went the brainstorm electric buzz generated by the wilful networking of 2,000 members of the world's mile high club.

Power of ideas

And what will the delegates have taken home?

For some, contracts. They will have felt an extra million dollars as they left for the last time past the security cordon.

China: Waking giant
Economic growth: 8% in 2002
Sixth largest economy in the world
Goal: Quadruple growth to $1,200bn a year by 2010
Wages about one sixth of those in Thailand
Largest recipient of foreign direct investment last year - $53bn

Source: Davos forums

For others contacts - a fistful of business cards.

If any UK delegates had snaffled some of the hall's CWS CleanSeat machines, which automatically clean toilet seats after every flush, well, they could do wonders for British public hygiene.

But more important are the ideas.

The ideas, for instance, of the likes of Brazilian president Lula de Silva of ways to ensure capitalism benefits not just top-ranking capitalists.

The warning that if Europe was no longer willing to be America's best friend, China might do instead. Indeed, filter out the Iraq issue, and a key underlying message from delegates such as George Soros was China's growing status on the world stage.

And the thought from Argentine president Eduardo Duhalde that the globalisation process will have succeeded when delegates can meet without the security which encircled the conference centre with steel mesh, the Belvedere Hotel with coiled barbed wire, and left streets echoing to the bark of police dogs.

Love and money

With such wealth on display (just how does a stretch Mercedes perform in the snow?), it is little surprise, if a shame, that such protective measures were needed.

Still, ethics were highlighted, with speakers such as Ravi Shankar, founder of the India-based Art of Living Foundation, cautioning delegates that business and love had "opposite mathematics".

"In business you take more and give less. In love you give more and take less."

'Buoyed up with hope'

And what did the summit give?

British actress Julia Ormond
Julia Ormond: "Buoyed up with hope"

Did it help the forum achieve its aim of "improving the state of mankind"?

Well, there was certainly some of that.

An Indian businessman told me he has been asked to help broker peace between India and Pakistan.

Actress Julia Ormond told the summit's final session that she was leaving "buoyed up with hope" because of the welcome her charity work has received from business delegates.

And I met Richard Jefferson, a molecular biologist who could have been a big earner, but chose to research crops which yield rewards for African farmers rather than seed conglomerates.

Schmooze value

Through contact at the summit, Mr Jefferson's work has gained the interest of former US president Bill Clinton and some corporate bosses, and the potential for huge financial support.

"A lot of good does come out of Davos," Mr Jefferson said.

"There is lots of schmoozing, but the value of the schmooze should not be underestimated.

"Businessmen are interested. They were not born chief executives. They were often people first."

Conference colour

Eyewitness accounts


See also:

28 Jan 03 | Business
28 Jan 03 | Middle East
24 Jan 03 | Business
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
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