Crises keeping leaders away from Davos, Ardern opportunity

A number of world leaders will be absent from the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland due to domestic crises. However the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will attend, and has a heavy workload.

Reuters: Gloomy forecast for Davos: crises aplenty, but few world leaders

An array of crises will keep several world leaders away from the annual World Economic Forum in Davos next week, which takes place against a backdrop of deepening gloom over the global economic and political outlook.

Some 3,000 business, government and civil society figures are due to gather in the snow-blanketed ski resort, but among them are only three leaders of the Group of Seven most industrialized countries: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte.

Donald Trump, who stole the Davos limelight last year with a rare appearance by a sitting U.S. president, pulled out of this year’s event as he grapples with a partial U.S. government shutdown.

French President Emmanuel Macron is also skipping the meeting as he seeks to respond to the “yellow vest” protests, while British Prime Minister Theresa May battles to find a consensus on Brexit.

Outside the G7, the leaders of Russia and India are shunning Davos, while China – whose president, Xi Jinping, was the first Chinese leader to attend the elite gathering in 2017 to offer a vigorous defense of free trade – is sending his deputy instead.

So a lack of big names in the world. The problems that may be addressed in their absence:

Anxieties over trade disputes, fractious international relations, Brexit and a growth slowdown that some fear could tip the world economy into recession are set to dominate the Jan. 22-25 Alpine meeting.

The WEF’s own Global Risks Report set the tone this week with a stark warning of looming economic headwinds, in part because of geopolitical tensions among major powers.

So where does Ardern fit in? She has quite a bit to do, with no baby distraction on this international trip.

Fran O’Sullivan: It’s Jacinda Ardern’s chance to shine — but can she show substance too?

Will Jacinda Ardern measure up to the star billing she has been accorded by the World Economic Forum (WEF) at its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week?

The WEF highlighted Ardern’s participation among four other “leaders and luminaries” — including naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prince William — in the key press statement announcing the lineup for Davos 2019.

This is quite striking for a political leader barely into her second year as New Zealand’s Prime Minister and yet to chalk up significant and sustained domestic results.

An extraordinary opportunity for an unproven leader of a small, remote country.

Ardern’s star status will inevitably burnish the PM’s credentials as a “next generation leader” with her finger on the international pulse and an instinct for emerging issues.

But how the Prime Minister translates her growing reputation in key offshore circles into concerted political results at home will ultimately be how she is judged.

Will she be viewed as a political curiosity in the vein of former Labour Prime Minister David Lange, whose communication skills obscured his failure to command his Cabinet?

It will take some time yet to see how Ardern measures up on substance and significant achievements.

The WEF has invited Ardern to join three panels — more than many other “minor” leaders — which will enable her to play to her undoubted communication strengths and position New Zealand (under the Coalition Government) as being progressive on some big issues of our times.

Ardern’s first panel is on is “Safeguarding Our Planet“, where panellists will be asked to address how leaders can take action to safeguard people and the planet.

Other panellists include Afira Sakano, who is chair of Japan’s Zero Waste Academy; Attenborough; former US Vice-President Al Gore, who has carved out a reputation as an environmentalist; and Anand Mahindra, an Indian industrialist.

Ardern’s next panel is “More than GDP“, which will enable her to promote New Zealand’s first “wellbeing Budget”, which Finance Minister Grant Robertson will unveil this year.

The preamble to the panel says it is widely recognised that GDP alone is an inadequate measure of a nation’s progress. “Human capital, well-being, innovation, resilience and agility alongside GDP are critical measures of economic and social progress.”

Again, the panellists will be asked to address what government, business and civil society leaders can do to better capture the less-tangible factors of inclusive growth.

Other notables on this panel include OECD chief Angel Gurria.

He will join Prince William for Ardern’s final panel, which is on mental health.

Ardern says she intends to speak out against “false protectionism and isolation” at Davos, and also in visits to London and Brussels, where she will be promoting trade initiatives in the wake of the Brexit debacle.

“I hope other leaders will come to see more compassionate domestic policy settings as a compelling alternative to the false promise of protectionism and isolation,” she says.

It is interesting to see mental health in the mix.

This raises one of Ardern’s problems so far, talking big but delivering small, or failing to take urgent action on what have been claimed to be urgent issues – like mental health.

It was claimed that mental health care in New Zealand was in crisis two years ago, but incoming Ardern-led Government set up yet another inquiry, and while a report has been delivered the Government are yet to say what they are going to do about it.

Talking up compassion is fine to an extent, but actually delivering in a substantive way is something that Ardern and her Ministers have step up on.

So Ardern is about to step up on the world stage at Davos. It will be interesting to hear what she ways, and to hear the world reaction.


Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  20th January 2019

    More committees. Ho hum. Will she promote her next big idea: a capital gains tax? Surely the world is waiting?

  2. Blazer

     /  20th January 2019

    can someone please outline what impact John Key as P.M had internationally, apart from playing golf with Obama and getting hammered on…Hardtalk.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  20th January 2019

      Did he pretend to like the Javinda flakes?

      Or just quietly create the TPPA? And help install Mike More and Helen Clark in international positions as well as get NZ on the Security Council playing an active role?

  3. adamsmith1922

     /  20th January 2019

    Davos is where Ardern will pose and flannel,but in fact to date she has achieved very little. She is hugely overrated, but possesses very little substance.
    Her advocacy for trade is a complete volte-face from her posture when in opposition.

    • Blazer

       /  20th January 2019

      if you judge her predecessors with the same rigour ,it would be a very sorry …legacy…and of course she has only been P.M a little over 1 year.

      Davos and Bilderberger and the like are just a waste of time for minnow nations.

      • adamsmith1922

         /  20th January 2019

        The post was about Ardern,not about her predecessors. My comments were about Ardern.
        In a year she has achieved nothing of substance other than to trash the oil & gas industry; fired Curran and Whaiteri, waste money in the Jones slush fund, preside over a cabinet stuffed with incompetent ministers like Twyford,Hipkins,Clark. Provided middle class welfare in the form of free tertiary fees. Promise higher taxes. Allowed Shaw to talk about decreasing size of economy substantially so as to attain the moral nirvana of carbon zero.

        She has done bugger all to actually grow the economy or materially raise standards of living.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  20th January 2019

          To be on the stage with Prince William is a bit odd. When did he become an economics expert ? Or David Attenborough, either ?

          She’s probably window-dressing.

          Her skipping around grinning and telling everyone to be kind and use well-being in politics won’t do much for her or our image.

        • Blazer

           /  20th January 2019

          subjective drivel….and baseless assumption.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  20th January 2019

          A very fair and fine summary of Princess Jacinda’s accomplishments to date, Adam.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  20th January 2019

            She’ll probably prance on singing ‘Try a Little Kindness’ and ask for the audience to do a group hug.

  1. Crises keeping leaders away from Davos, Ardern opportunity — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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