Davos 2012 starts with worries about eurozone crisis

WEF logo in Davos
Image caption The outlook is getting grimmer, say business leaders

The eurozone crisis and its global impact are set to dominate as the World Economic Forum (WEF) gets under way.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel will open the annual meeting of some 2,600 top business leaders and politicians in the Swiss mountain resort Davos.

One topic tackled in numerous debates is the future of capitalism itself.

Also on the agenda are issues like the rise of China, financial regulation, and the aftermath of popular protests around the world.

The forum, now in its 42nd year, expects to attract nearly 40 heads of government and state, 19 of the world's 20 most influential central bankers, numerous government officials and the bosses of some of the world's largest companies.

They will mix with dozens of political activists and trade union leaders, young entrepreneurs and leading academics.

The five-day event is not expected to deliver any results, and the organisers stress that this is not what it was designed for.

However, the Davos debates often set the agenda and can determine the mood for weeks if not months to come.

Economic gloom

The forum's start, however, does not bode well.

The event gets under way on Wednesday after a drumbeat of bad news, starting on Monday with a survey that suggested both businesses and governments have lost the trust of the public, followed by dire warnings from the International Monetary Fund that the global economy was in a "danger zone" once again, and rounded off with a survey of global chief executives that indicated a sharp collapse of business confidence around the world.

However, there are indications that the mood in Davos could turn, with many top bosses telling BBC reporters that during the past few weeks they started to feel much more upbeat about the global economy.

The real Davos business

Economic debates and speeches by political leaders may be grabbing the headlines, but the real business of Davos will be conducted elsewhere - in the corridors, meeting rooms of the Davos Congress Centre and at the numerous dinners and parties on the sidelines of the event.

The real purpose of Davos, after all, is bringing business leaders together to network and exchange ideas.

Image caption Not everybody agrees with the aims of Davos 2012

"You can basically meet in one week some 15 or 20 key people, where otherwise you'd have to fly 150,000 miles over 12 months," says David Jones, chief executive of French advertising firm Havas.

With personal assistants and public relations officers removed, and the immediate pressure of daily work left behind in the office, the world's top bosses can focus on making connections, on pitching or finding the next big deal, hearing about new technologies, or simply recharging their minds with fresh ideas.

With thick packs of business cards at the ready, and smartphones constantly in sight, the executives at Davos are a sight to behold.

The deal

New friends are found, old friendships are renewed, the hungry gaze always on the look-out for the next important or interesting person to meet.

With security badges dangling on short elastic bands from people's necks, the Davos glance - a quick but not so stealthy glance at the opposite person's name and affiliation - allows for quick work as new opportunities are sought.

Sometimes it is luck, sometimes design, as executives meet and talk about their business.

There are plenty of Davos moments - like the telecoms entrepreneur who explains his technological breakthrough to furiously nodding executives of a giant firm in the field; and in turn his delight when they let him know that their company has found a - still secret - solution for the one problem which which he was still grappling.

There is talk of synergies, the need to meet soon, and swiftly business cards are exchanged and meetings arranged.

Celebrities no more

Some five or six years ago, at the height of the financial boom, Davos briefly looked set to descend into a celebrity farce.

Business and economics were pushed aside as journalists (and bosses) jostled for the attention of visiting stars like Angelina Jolie, Michael Douglas, Claudia Schiffer, Richard Gere and Sharon Stone.

These days are long gone, and Davos has returned to its more sober self.

Having said that, sober is probably a relative term. Western economies may be doing poorly but most companies, lean and mean after three years of cutting costs, are highly profitable again.

The parties at Davos may not reach the heights or excesses of years past for some time to come. But there are enough banks and accounting firms and technology giants to ensure that the wine and fine food will be flowing freely in the nights to come.

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