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World Economic Forum

January 26, 2011

Participants at the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos will discuss the shift of political and economic power to emerging and developing nations. The five-day talks begin Wednesday evening in the Swiss village of Davos.

A glass of water in front of the World Economic Forum logo is half full - or half empty
Leaders will discuss prospects for post-crisis growthImage: AP

A more complex and interdependent world has emerged from what has been called the longest and deepest recession since the 1930s. These new commercial and political realities are on the agenda as more than 2,500 corporate, government and social leaders attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2011.

The speed of change and technological innovation along with a shift of geopolitical and economic growth from north to south and west to east are among the most important factors of the new reality, according to Klaus Schwab, the forum's founder.

"This has not only political and economic consequences," he said. "I think the world will go through some shock waves of adaptation."

Emerging and developing changes

A change in realities can even be seen in this year's guest list. More than half of the 35 heads of government traveling to Davos are from emerging markets.

Barbed wire in the snow surrounding a building in Davos
The forum is put under heavy security for the conferenceImage: AP

"I am very much looking forward to see the results of the [recent] meeting between the presidents of the US and China, which will be an indicator of how much we can build a harmonious world, despite this power shift," Schwab said.

While prospects for future economic growth in these and some other developing countries look promising, economic prospects are dimming in the world's three most powerful regions: the United States, Japan and Europe.

While Germany is enjoying a moderate recovery, gross domestic product growth in the euro area is forecast to virtually stagnate at just over 1 percent this year, according to a report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

The case of Nordic Europe

Robert Greenhill, the managing director of the World Economic Forum (WEF), said while there is little reason to cheer in Europe, the continent still has positive elements to share with the rest of the world.

World Economic Forum logo
The WEF has hosted economic elites since 1971Image: WEF Davos

"One of the key themes this year is going to be what the Nordic lessons are, because if you look at Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, they actually have combined great competitiveness, great social cohesion and great environmental sensitivities as well," he said.

Another of the key topics at the hundreds of sessions on political, business, scientific and cultural issues taking place over five days will be the effects of the digitalized age, with a special session on whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.

"It's a new reality and it's a symptom for the power of a digitalized world," Schwab said. "The issue behind this is how we find norms, which harmonize the need for the protection of privacy with the necessary degree of transparency."

Snow, not stars

Much of the glitz and glamour of past years will be missing from this year's gathering of the rich and powerful. Though U2 frontman Bono is still scheduled to attend, none of the Hollywood superstars who used to turn up at this meeting will be present.

Greenhill said the change is because Davos is all about concrete discussions of critical issues.

Shoulders-down view of WEF participants in gray suits
Decision-makers, not movie stars, will take center stage at Davos in 2011Image: AP

"In a sense there is no more glamorous activity than people who can actually provide running water or effective health support or jobs to people in developing countries," he said. "The people who are doing that on the ground and whose organizations are spearheading innovations in those areas - they will be at Davos."

Top political billing at the conference was expected to go to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said Tuesday he would still make the opening keynote address in spite of a suicide attack at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport the previous day. He had earlier said he would postpone his trip to Davos.

Also at the conference, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will outline the G20 agenda under his leadership, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak on global and European challenges.

Author: Lisa Schlein, Geneva / sms

Editor: Sam Edmonds