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WEF 2016: Topics and top players

(London Post)   Terrorism and the refugee crisis are high on the agenda of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. But what’s really got everyone talking is the digitalization of industry aka “Industry 4.0.”

Klaus Schwab, the founder and president of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, has written a book, stuffing the goody bags lined up for the forum’s guests. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” is a 188-page tome detailing Schwab’s analysis of a development which he describes as beyond anything mankind has ever seen.

The increasing digitalization of industrial production processes – also known as “Industry 4.0” – actually does have the potential to be considered a revolution. According to a WEF survey of managers, in industrialized countries by 2020.

Among the WEF’s most prominent attendees are the most active proponents of Industry 4.0: Jack Ma, founder of Chinese online retailer Alibaba, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Eric Schmidt, who heads Google’s parent company Alphabet, Ya-Qin Zhang, president of the Chinese search engine, Baidu, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella, and Hiroaki Nakanishi, CEO of Japanese electronics maker Hitachi.

Odd thematic choices

Still, it seems odd to select Industry 4.0 as the main theme for this year’s WEF. There’s a whole host of topics that seem more pressing.

For example, the bloody terrorist attacks on Paris, Istanbul, Jakarta, and Ouagadougou. There’s the refugee crisis, which is sorely testing the European Union. There’s also China’s economic slump, and the recession in big emerging economies like Brazil and Russia. Not to mention the powder keg that is the Middle East, Ukraine’s shaky situation and Western economic sanctions against Russia and environmental policy after the COP21 climate summit in Paris.

Davos – a view from the top.

That’s all going to be discussed in Davos too, of course, the event organizers say. Over 300 events, presentations and panel discussions are supposed to take place before the weekend. Around 2,500 politicians, managers and scientists from more than 100 countries are attending. Among them are 1,500 delegates from the 1,000 companies feeding the WEF with yearly contributions of up to 500,000 Swiss francs (457,000 euros, $498,600).

As if that weren’t enough, there are more than 300 “public personalities,” including numerous heads of state and government, ministers, central bank presidents, high-ranking functionaries from international organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations, and Hollywood stars such as Leonardo di Caprio and Kevin Spacey.

Key players are missing

There’s no lack of prominence and hard-hitting topics. Whether or not those will bring the WEF closer to its self-professed goal of “improving the state of the world” remains to be seen. For now, it seems more likely that this year’s Forum won’t be remembered for its groundbreaking moments and meetings.

Several important actors are missing this year, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, a central figure in the European refugee crisis, and her counterparts from Hungary and Poland, who have declared themselves opponents of Merkel’s refugee policy.

Attending in Merkel’s stead are German President Joachim Gauck and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, while Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan is represented by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

From the United States, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry are attending. Rounding out his last year in office, President Barack Obama will not be gracing Davos, although rumors of his attendance swirled ahead of the event. The highest ranking Chinese official at the WEF is Vice-President Li Yuanchao.

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