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World Economic Forum: what are the powerful ones doing in the snow?

Rich and powerful people meet in an idyllic Swiss mountain resort – an annual ritual around which many myths intertwine. But what really brings the WEF to Davos?

By Martin Mair, BR, ARD-Hauptstadtstudio

Davos has something picturesque. The Swiss Alpine panorama is revealed here by its most beautiful postcard: the air in winter shines crystalline and cold, the idyll of the spa is perfect. But once in the year he is seriously disturbed. Then the helicopters revolve around the Landwassertal, journalists contend with the heads of government and the size of the company. They all enter a globalization event at the World Economic Forum (WEF). A show of rich and powerful, as critics love to mock.

Exclusive club of superlatives

The numbers are truly impressive: there are more than 3,000 participants from 110 countries, there are 400 conferences and workshops. Every year, WEF founder Klaus Schwab proudly presents attendance records. But the forum remains an exclusive club: the organizers decide for themselves who is authorized to come.

The federal government is buttoned up to the goals

The chancellor is back, so government spokesman Steffen Seibert last week. She regularly announces the public appointments of Angela Merkel on Friday – the calendar is a two-day visit to Davos. "The expectation is like every time Davos meets a series of international interlocutors of great interest," said Seibert. What his boss specifically expects from the meeting and with what message he wants to appear – is silent with the Chancellor's spokesman.

The request to improve the world

Other ministers remain tight-lipped. "I can also say that the Minister of Economic Affairs, Altmaier, travels," he says from the CDU house. And the Minister of Defense has its spokesmen aligned on the fact that Ursula von der Leyen in Davos will deal with security issues.

Von der Leyen will go to Davos for another reason: he is a member of the "Board of Trustees". An exclusive circle that sees itself as a circle of meeting directors. The best politicians, like the former US Vice President Al Gore, belong to the committee as do business representatives and scientists. They are all advising the forum, which tells itself that it wants to improve the state of the world.

The political meaning remains controversial

An affirmation on which Heiner Flassbeck can only smile wearily. The economist was former Secretary of State at the Ministry of Finance, then chief economist of a United Nations organization. And also a guest in Davos. For him, the meeting is a relaxed exchange of rich and important people. "But politically, the meaning is close to zero," he says.

However, the Federal Chancellor and four of his ministers arrive alone. In addition to those for business and defense are also the health minister Jens Spahn and the transport minister Andreas Scheuer in the Swiss Alps. The response to the concrete agenda of the members of the German government remains vague.

The WEF critic Flassbeck also believes he knows why: it's all a world audience that you would not get otherwise. "Mrs. Merkel makes her speech, three more small talks, and then comes back," Flassbeck said. We must not believe, however, that Davos is really seriously discussed politically.

The World Economic Forum calls critics on the scene

The accusation that the World Economic Forum is just a gigantic show is as old as the meeting. Conspiracy theories also intertwine around the event. Here, some believe, the secret world order is determined. Precisely because the rich and powerful meet every year in Davos. Shielded behind barbed wire in a luxury hotel.

Outside, in the heart of the Swiss village, it is regularly noisy. Protesters march through the streets with banners and whistles. Less conspiracy theories on the street, but rather a solid criticism of globalization. Destruction and environmental exploitation are the words of the protest order. This too has become a ritual, just like the World Economic Forum itself.

Lasting decisions or even pioneering discoveries have not been known for almost 50 years of WEF history. But Davos sinks every year for four days in the hectic chaos. So silence returns to the picturesque place. And everyone will be back next year.

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