Europe readies riposte to Trump's 'America First' push in Davos

Staff making their way carefully along a path beside the congress centre during heavy snowfall ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday.
Staff making their way carefully along a path beside the congress centre during heavy snowfall ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

French leader set to lead continental charge at summit of global political, business chiefs

DAVOS • European leaders will be out in force at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week to defend multilateralism before US President Donald Trump arrives to deliver his "America First" message.

Politicians, business chiefs, bankers and celebrities will meet in the Swiss Alps for the four-day gathering against an unsettling global backdrop.

A decade after the bankruptcy of US investment bank Lehman Brothers helped trigger a global financial crisis, economic growth has returned and stock markets are hitting record highs. Yet there is a nagging fear among many in Davos that the brighter economic outlook could turn out to be little more than a mirage if the daunting array of geopolitical threats - from protectionism and climate change to cyber attacks and outright war - gather pace this year.

Mr Trump, the first sitting US President to attend the forum since Mr Bill Clinton in 2000, is a source of much of this anxiety after a volatile first year in office in which he has turned American foreign policy on its head.

The forum will open today with a speech by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and end on Friday, when Mr Trump will address the audience in the massive auditorium where Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke last year, offering to fill the global leadership void created by an inward-looking Washington.

In the days between Mr Modi and Mr Trump, the leaders of Europe's biggest countries, absent from Davos last year and emboldened by their own economic recovery, will offer an alternative vision to Mr Trump and Mr Xi, who the Europeans say has failed to deliver on his promise of a year ago to open China up to foreign investment.

The charge will be led by French President Emmanuel Macron, the new star of European politics who, in an audacious move, invited many of the Davos-bound business chiefs to the Palace of Versailles yesterday to press them to invest in France. And when he speaks in Davos tomorrow, the former investment banker will offer his own "diagnosis" of globalisation and set out a vision for addressing widening inequalities, global warming and the rise of nationalism, his advisers say.

Mr Macron will be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, returning to the world stage after months of political limbo at home, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

The World Economic Forum is a marathon of panel discussions, lunches and cocktail parties that delve into subjects as diverse as terrorism, artificial intelligence and wellness. This year's event will include several sessions on sexual harassment, a nod to the #MeToo movement that erupted after allegations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

There are seven female co-chairs this year, including the head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde.

Among the other leaders attending are British Prime Minister Theresa May and Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'Europe readies riposte to Trump's 'America First' push in Davos'. Print Edition | Subscribe