Last week we were surprised to learn that demand for hotel rooms at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, where the world’s billionaires, CEOs, politicians, celebrities and oligarchs mingle every year (while regaled by their public relations teams known as the “media”, for whom getting an invite to the DJ event du jour is more important than rocking the boat by asking unpleasant questions) was so great, not only are hotel rooms running out, but local employees may be put up in shipping containers in car parks to free up much needed accommodations.
This scramble to attend what has traditionally been perceived as the hangout for those who have benefited the most from “peak globalization” was in some ways surprising: coming after a year in which “populism” emerged as a dominant global force, while sending establishment politics, legacy policies and even globalization reeling, the message – in terms of lessons learned from 2016 – sent to the masses from the world’s 0.1% was hardly enlightened.
However, while most Davos participants remain tone deaf, one person has gotten the message loud and clear.
According to Reuters, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who faces a crucial election this year as she runs for her 4th term as German chancellor amid sagging approval ratings – is steering clear of the World Economic Forum in Davos, a meeting expected to be dominated by debate over the looming presidency of Donald Trump “and rising public anger with elites and globalization”, which is ironic because just two years prior, the topic was rising wealth inequality which the world’s billionaires blasted, lamented and, well, got even richer as nothing at all changed.
What is surprising about Merkel’s absence in 2017 is that the Chancellor has been a regular at the annual gathering of political leaders, CEOs and celebrities, traveling to the snowy resort in the Swiss Alps seven times since becoming chancellor in 2005. But her spokesman told Reuters she had decided not to attend for a second straight year.
This year’s conference runs from Jan. 17-20 under the banner “Responsive and Responsible Leadership”. Trump’s inauguration coincides with the last day of the conference.
“It’s true that a Davos trip was being considered, but we never confirmed it, so this is not a cancellation,” the spokesman said.
Reuters adds that this is the first time Merkel has missed Davos two years in a row since taking office over 11 years ago and her absence may come as a disappointment to the organizers because her reputation as a steady, principled leader fits well with the theme of this year’s conference.
There was little additional information behind her continued absencea the government spokesman declined to say what scheduling conflict was preventing her from attending, nor would it say whether the decision might be linked to the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people in mid-December.
The reason for her absence, however, may be far more prosaic: as Reuters echoes what we said previously, “after the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Trump were attributed to rising public anger with the political establishment and globalization, leaders may be more reluctant than usual to travel to a conference at a plush ski resort that has become synonymous with the global elite.”
Another potential complication is that this year’s Davod event concludes just hours before Trump’s inauguration. As a result, one European official suggested to Reuters that “the prospect of having to address questions about Trump days before he enters the White House might also have dissuaded Merkel, whose politics is at odds with the president-elect on a broad range of issues, from immigration and trade, to Russia and climate change.”
During the U.S. election campaign, Trump described Merkel’s refugee policies as “insane”. Like Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, who announced in early December that he would not seek a second term next year, will not be in Davos.
Most other European political leaders are expected to be present, despite the furious changes in Europe’s political landscape in the past year: the Forum had hoped to lure Matteo Renzi, but he resigned as Italian prime minister last month. European leaders that are expected include Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Enda Kenny of Ireland. British Prime Minister Theresa May could also be there.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who was elected to the WEF board of trustees last year, is expected to attend, as are senior ministers from a range of other European countries, as well as top figures from the European Commission.
Members of Donald Trump’s team, including Davos regulars like former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn and fund manager Anthony Scaramucci, are also expected. Reuters reminds us that WEF Chairman Klaus Schwab was invited to Trump Tower last month, although the purpose of the visit was unclear.
Although the WEF does not comment on which leaders it is expecting until roughly a week before the meeting, the star attraction is expected to be Xi Jinping, the first Chinese president to attend. Meanwhile, it is was highly unlikely that the one person everyone would like to seek answers from at Davos, Russian president Vladimir Putin, will be present.