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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January, 2005, 12:29 GMT
Davos: what's the big deal?
By Tim Weber
Business Editor, BBC News website, in Davos

Some 2,000 of the world's movers and shakers are in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos for a week of talking, schmoozing and networking - so what's the real story?

U2 musician Bono will campaign Davos for debt relief for poor countries
U2's Bono will mingle with business leaders and politicians

Want to know how China will change the world? How to play the "corporate numbers game"?

What's "cool in Asia" and whether the iPod will really change the music business?

Or how to make global outsourcing work? Or - come to think of it: whether economic globalisation can be made more "equitable"?

In Davos they debate this and dozens of similarly vexing questions.

Because for five days in January, the bunker-like congress centre of Davos and the surrounding luxury hotels turn themselves into a high-intensity think tank.

Deja vu overload

From Wednesday to Sunday, Davos boasts what is probably the highest density of top politicians and business people in the world. Only the hospitality tent on the first day of the Olympic Games may house more of both.

And so it is time for deja vu overload.

Nearly everybody milling in the corridors of the Davos conference centre will look somewhat familiar, because they are - known from television, print or online.

Jostling for position at the political end are big names like UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and - a last-minute addition - French President Jacques Chirac, who is now pre-empting Mr Blair's "opening plenary speech" with his very own "special message" two hours earlier.

Boss town

There are more than 20 heads of state and government in Davos this year, plus dozens of ministers. Developing countries are strongly represented; the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Brazil - Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo and Lula da Silva - have promised to come.

Policemen outside the conference centre  World Economic Forum
Security is tight at Davos

Where there is talk about fighting poverty, U2's Bono won't be far away. He is joined by artists like Peter Gabriel, Youssou N'Dour, Angelina Jolie and Richard Gere.

Social entrepreneurs - in charge of businesses that are not run for profit but for a good cause - are there as well, as are campaigners from organisations like Amnesty International, the World Wildlife Fund and the International Aids Vaccine Initiative.

And then there are, of course, the big bosses.

Bill Gates and Michael Dell are regulars, as are the men and women in charge of companies like Hewlett Packard, Nestle, Deutsche Bank, Shell, BP, Volkswagen, Vodafone, Caterpillar and Pfizer.

Running the world?

But what is it that draws them all to chilly Davos, where temperatures are predicted to plummet to minus 24C this week?

Are they here to run the world and decide on war or peace, and how best to exploit developing countries, as fans of conspiracy theories would have it?

It's a chance to recharge my batteries, think about big things, and meet lots of interesting people
Davos participant
The truth, alas, is more banal.

Yes, sometimes deals are struck. In 1994, the Palestinians and Israelis came close to hammering out a peace deal.

This year the new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is likely to meet at least one of the three Israeli deputy prime ministers coming to Davos.

Most of the time, though, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum - now in its 34th year - is just a talking shop.

Admittedly a very good one.

Where else are you likely to find THE expert (make that experts) for nearly every subject discussed either on the podium or in the audience?

Take last year's discussion on how long China will keep financing the US budget deficit - only to have one man in the audience make a prediction about Beijing's behaviour, and this man just happens to be the economic adviser of the Chinese president.

Schmoozefest

Technician prepares the conference centre  World Economic Forum
The Davos conference centre turns into a giant think tank for a week

And then there is the networking. Access to Davos is only for the top people (plus a few pesky journalists).

There are hardly any spin masters or personal assistants.

Access to managers and politicians is immediate.

Most PR people would probably get heart attacks if they knew how frankly and openly their bosses discuss the issues of the day.

There is an enormous buzz in the corridors of Davos and at the late-night parties across town.

Some call it, rather grandly, the 'spirit of Davos'.

But if you think about it, Davos is really just the ultimate schmooze fest.

Or as one top executive put it, when he tried to define Davos for me: "It's a chance to recharge my batteries, think about big things, and meet lots of interesting people."





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