Page last updated at 21:27 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Global crisis talks move to Davos

By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website

World Economic Forum logo

Wars. Economic turmoil. Global poverty. The agenda is packed as more than 2,500 of the world's top business leaders and politicians come to the Swiss mountain village of Davos to attend the World Economic Forum, which starts this Wednesday.

The organisers are not bashful. This could be "one of the most important" annual meetings of the forum yet, they predict.

And they have a point. The annual Davos event - this year with participants from over 90 countries - is not only a good opportunity to get a feel for the global economy and political balance of power.

To participants it also offers a chance to step back and take stock of crisis and conflict, and gather ideas for tackling the world's problems.

The forum's "theme" this year is fitting: shaping the post-crisis world.

The participants are taking to it with a vengeance, if the forum's new system for reserving a place at sessions is any guide.

The first batch of tickets for sessions about the economic crisis was snapped up within 10 minutes after the booking website opened.

Humble pie

Critics, however, will point out that many of these problems were actually caused by the powerful elite that flocks to Davos every year.

And with plenty of social activists in attendance, the event is also likely to bring some reckoning, contrition, and large helpings of humble pie.

Philip Jennings, general secretary of global trade union UNI, said "we would not give a bonus to a factory worker who destroys the production line or a programmer who introduces a bug into software, yet all these bankers are being rewarded for watching while the industry ran headlong into a meltdown".

Global leaders

Last January, as the first financial institutions suffered, most bankers had lost their exuberance and could be found huddled together to discuss the unfolding economic crisis.

This year, the bosses of hedge funds and private equity firms will have lost their swagger as well.

Still, the forum continues to be a top attraction for the rich and powerful.

Former Lehman boss Richard Fuld
Lehman Brothers' Richard Fuld won't return to Davos this year
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will be there and give a keynote speech, as will Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

All the world's top banks and industry giants will be represented, and a record number of heads of state and government from around the world.

Absent friends

But there will be notable absentees.

One Davos regular was Richard Fuld, the boss of collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers. He is not on this year's list of participants, as is a raft of other bankers who found themselves on the wrong side of the credit crunch.

Missing as well, and suffering the close attention of Indian authorities, is Ramalinga Raju, the founder and chairman of IT services giant Satyam, who recently admitted that he cooked the books to the tune of more than $1bn.

Mr Raju was a prominent supporter of the World Economic Forum.

More importantly, President Obama has ordered several key US officials to stay at home and tackle economic and political flashpoints.

Top economic adviser and Davos regular Lawrence Summers will stay in Washington. Tim Geithner is still awaiting his confirmation as new treasury secretary. US Fed boss Ben Bernanke will give Davos a miss.

Even National Security Adviser James L Jones has been told to stay at home.

As a result, the voice of the US government will be somewhat muted in Davos, and participants will sorely miss the input of heavy hitters like Mr Summers and Mr Geithner.

Getting serious

Overall, though, the organisers of the not-for-profit World Economic Forum are not short of participants. The number of top politicians seeking to come to this valley in the Swiss mountains and hoping to get a grip on the crisis has nearly doubled.

Members of the Swiss army place barbed wire on a fence in Davos
Davos continues to be a top attraction for the rich and powerful

It is probably a sign of the times. Unfettered free-market capitalism dominated is out, government regulation is back in.

It is all part of the trend for a more serious and less glitzy Davos. The forum is a key opportunity for networking, but the number and scale of the all-important parties that are the staple of Davos nights is coming down.

Even Goldman Sachs, the banking giant that managed to avoid the worst of the crisis, has cancelled its Davos party.

The new seriousness is reflected in the guest list.

During the past few years already, the organisers cut down on the numbers of campaigning Hollywood stars coming to Davos. Anti-poverty campaigner and Davos regular Bono is expected to come again, as is human rights activist and former rock star Peter Gabriel.

Overall, Davos 2009 is bound to be a much more serious and frugal affair - as frugal as a meeting of the world's multi-millionaires and billionaires can get.

Hard topics

As always, the forum's agenda is packed with an eclectic mix of sessions.

There will be bread-and-butter issues like the state of the economy and the crisis in the Middle East.

The priority for delegates will be to meet people, discuss the issues, eat delicious food
Syed A Mateen, Karachi, Pakistan

Participants will discuss how corporations can "turn the corner", will dissect the "36 hours in September" when the credit crunch turned into financial meltdown.

Deforestation and the global lack of fresh water are on the agenda, and whether the environment will lose out to the economy.

But there are also lighter items, for example leadership lessons for managers based Shakespeare's Macbeth.

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