PARIS: The deadly Islamist attacks in France and conflicts in Iraq and Ukraine are set to dominate discussions at this week’s gathering of the world’s political and economic elite in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.
French President Francois Hollande, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be among the 2,500 prominent figures attending the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting opening Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), with all eyes on their countries’ battle to root out jihadists planning attacks in Europe.
France, Belgium and Germany have carried out a series of raids, arresting dozens of Islamist suspects in the wake of the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, a policewoman and a kosher supermarket in Paris which claimed 17 lives.
The threat posed to the continent by young extremists returning to Europe after fighting with Islamic State and Al-Qaeda-linked groups in the Middle East has soared to the top of Western leaders’ agenda following the Paris attacks.
At Davos, the topic will be examined with renewed urgency on a global level, with Iraqi leaders including Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, as well as African leaders from Mali and Nigeria expected to make a strong call for international support to beat back the Islamist militants.
Another conflict likely to be raised is Ukraine’s battle against a pro-Russian rebellion in its eastern industrial heartland.
Both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are in attendance at the week-long talk shop, with Poroshenko expected to use the forum to drum up support.
Growth, QE, oil
Lavrov, whose country is ailing under Western sanctions over Moscow’s support for the insurgency, will be closely watched for his reaction to Kiev’s pitch.
Although no formal meetings have been scheduled, key European leaders and US Secretary of State John Kerry could also call impromptu meetings on the sidelines of the forum to mediate peace talks.
“Both terrorism and geopolitics are likely to cast their shadows on this year’s WEF. Both are serious threats to political stability in Europe and in the Middle East and North Africa,” Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS told Agence France-Presse.
“This year’s delegates will likely look for reassurance on two things. First, that national governments will take the necessary actions to limit terrorism risks. Second that enough is being done to sustain and boost growth in the global economy,” he added.
The Davos meet would not be complete without a thorough analysis of the state of the world’s economy and a taste of what is to come.
It also comes as the Oxfam charity reported that wealth accumulated by the richest one percent will exceed that of the rest of the world in 2016.
Champagne and caviar
China’s Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s first prime minister since 2009 to attend the forum, will seek to shore up international confidence in the Chinese economy and allay fears that the Asian giant’s growth is slowing.
Any comment by the Bank of England’s Mark Carney and Bank of Japan’s Haruhiko Kuroda will be scrutinized with markets hungry for deeper insights into what impact the divergent routes taken by the world’s biggest central banks could have.
Japan has opted for stimulus at a time when the US Federal Reserve is cutting back, while the European Central Bank was poised to embark on a massive purchase of sovereign debt to stop the bloc from sliding into deflation.
There will also be interest in central bankers’ reaction to host country Switzerland’s shock decision to scrap its three-year long bid to stop the franc from appreciating — a move that has made everything in already pricey Davos at least 15 percent more expensive for euro and dollar users.
The Swiss central bank’s decision to scrap a 1.20 cap against the euro has rocked global markets and bankrupted several international foreign exchange traders.
Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries chief Diezani Alison-Madueke and Khalid al-Falih, who heads the world’s biggest oil company Saudi Aramco, will also attract attention for any hints on changes in the cartel’s direction as oil prices sink to six-year lows.
Beyond politics and business, the glitzy forum known for its cocktail parties complete with champagne and caviar canapes would not be complete without stars and royalty.
This edition’s guest list include Prince Albert of Monaco and Britain’s Prince Andrew — the subject of lurid recent headlines that forced him to deny allegations that he had sex with a minor.