European leaders will be out in force at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week to defend multilateralism before U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to deliver his “America First” message.
Politicians, business chiefs, bankers and celebrities will meet in the Swiss Alps under the banner “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” for the four-day gathering against an unsettling global backdrop.
A decade after the bankruptcy of U.S. 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 in 2018.
“Not all geopolitical threats are threats to financial markets,” Axel Weber, the chairman of Swiss bank UBS and former president of the German Bundesbank told Reuters. “But I agree that there may be a disconnect, which has been going on for some time already and may well continue for some time.”
The Global Risks Report published by the WEF last week showed that many see a heightened risk of political and economic confrontations between major powers this year.
Trump, the first sitting U.S. president to attend the forum since 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 on Tuesday with a speech by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and end on Friday, when Trump is due to address the massive auditorium where Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke last year, offering to fill the global leadership void created by an inward-looking Washington.
White House officials said over the weekend that a government shutdown in the United States was unlikely to prevent Trump from making the trip, although the budget director Mick Mulvaney said it was now “in flux”.
In the days between Modi and 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 Trump and Xi, who the Europeans say has failed to deliver on his promise of a year ago to open China up to foreign investment.