Cameron’s EU plans ‘hijack’ Davos forum

Several European leaders in Davos on Thursday urged Britain to stay in the European Union following UK Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership.

Cameron's EU plans 'hijack' Davos forum
British Prime Minister David Cameron at World Economic Forum in Davos. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

Speaking on a top-level panel at the World Economic Forum, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned that outside the 27-member bloc Britain would be "an island somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between the United States and Europe".
"It would not be connected with either of these two, so I think it's vital for us all that they stay in."

Cameron's promise to hold a public vote on whether Britain should remain part of the European Union has somewhat hijacked the agenda in Davos, previously expected to consider ways out of the three-year economic crisis.

Addressing the world's top business and political elite, Cameron denied Britain planned to "turn our backs" on Europe and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the EU as a union would be more powerful with London still involved.

"The EU will continue to be stronger if Britain is part of it," Kenny said on the same panel.

"Whatever happens, I would like to see that Britain would remain central to the European Union," he said.

"It's very important in the global sense."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to address the topic directly but reached out to Cameron by pledging more action on one of his favourite themes — boosting competitiveness in Europe.

"I say this expressly to my colleague David Cameron. You too have addressed competitiveness, see this as a central issue to ensure Europe's prosperity for the future," she said.

"We in Europe want to be as competitive as possible to ensure the prosperity of our people. That is in our interests and that is what we have addressed already and will continue to address."

Cameron held bilateral talks with Merkel, Kenny, Rutte, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the Davos forum, his office said.

He was due to meet Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg later.

Cameron said he planned to hold the referendum by the end of 2017 if re-elected, a period of time Kenny described as "an eternity in politics."

"What you need now is clarity," Kenny said, adding that Ireland had held referendums on several European issues in the past 40 years, with a "positive" response every time.

Monti said he was confident the British people would choose to continue their tricky relationship with Brussels, because turning their back on the EU would mean losing several economic advantages.
"I believe that when the moment comes, the UK people will say 'yes' because… if they say 'no', they would have to get out of the single market," he said.

Whereas last year's meeting of the World Economic Forum was dominated by talk of Greece leaving the eurozone, the leaders agreed the bloc would now stay together, but Rutte surprised some by calling for an exit mechanism.

"I believe our aim should be to have the whole eurozone intact," he said.

"At the same time, you can never predict whether at one stage a country would want to leave the eurozone and I think it should be possible."

And Rutte clashed with Kenny on whether the EU needed to change its founding treaties to include some of the far-reaching reforms agreed during the three-year debt crisis that has pitched the eurozone into recession.

Rutte said treaty change was necessary "in the medium-term" but Kenny stressed: "There is no opportunity now for reopening negotiations about treaty changes."

The Dutch prime minister also complained that too many tasks were being dealt with at a European level — he cited the example of health and safety
legislation — and that it was difficult to bring powers back to home parliaments from Brussels.

"In terms of rules and legislation, it's a bit like 'Hotel California', you can check out but you can never leave," he said.
 "You can never repatriate tasks to the national level."

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Switzerland: 2021 Davos summit shifted to Lucerne in May

The World Economic Forum announced Wednesday that its postponed 2021 Davos summit, themed as "The Great Reset" in the coronavirus crisis, will take place in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 18 to 21.

Switzerland: 2021 Davos summit shifted to Lucerne in May
Participants at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2020. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The annual gathering of the world's political, economic and business elite traditionally takes place in January against the idyllic snowy backdrop of the Swiss Alpine village of Davos.

But it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and, charged with remodelling the world economy in the wake of the crisis, will now be held 125 kilometres (75 miles) away in the plush Burgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne.

“The meeting will take place as long as all conditions are in place to guarantee the health and safety of participants and the host community,” WEF spokesman Adrian Monck said in a statement.

“The meeting will focus on the solutions required to address the world's most pressing challenges. “Global leaders will come together to design a common recovery path, to shape 'The Great Reset' in the post-Covid-19 era and rebuild a more cohesive and sustainable society.”

Hybrid format

The WEF announced in June that the 51st edition of its annual meeting would take place in a hybrid format, then in August said it was being delayed for several months to reduce any risks to participants from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lucerne summit will combine both in-person and virtual elements, with participants linked to a network of around 400 hubs worldwide to incorporate dialogue with the WEF's “young global shapers, to ensure openness and inclusion”, said Monck.

The summit will be preceded during the week of January 25 by digitally-convened high-level “Davos Dialogues”, when global leaders will share their views on the state of the world in 2021.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 1.04 million people while at least 35.5 million infections have been recorded since the outbreak emerged in China late last year, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

The pandemic has also triggered a global economic downturn, though the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that while it is far from over, it will not be as bad as originally feared thanks to a flood of government spending.

The World Trade Organization said likewise, forecasting a global trade contraction of 9.2 percent this year, rather than its previous “optimistic scenario” prediction of 12.9 percent.

But global trade will then grow by only 7.2 percent next year, rather than the previous 21.3-percent estimate issued in April, the WTO added.

Swiss cases rising

The WEF announcement comes as Switzerland announced Wednesday that daily coronavirus cases had jumped over the 1,000-mark for the first time since April 1, when the peak of the pandemic's initial wave began to recede.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset has urged the country to “get a grip” and be more rigorous in applying the basic measures to control the spread of the virus.

The 2020 edition of the WEF summit, hosted in January just as the world was beginning to become aware of the new coronavirus spreading in China, drew more than 50 heads of state and government to Davos.

It focused on themes of sustainability and finding a more inclusive model for capitalism. US President Donald Trump and Swedish teenage eco-warrior Greta Thunberg were among its top speakers.

The WEF said it aims to be back in Davos for 2022.