Foreign affairs

Davos is full of security barriers and screening to keep out intruders who might threaten the world’s leaders of governments and companies, but one managed to sneak through without a badge – the common cold.

By the end of the week of events at the World Economic Forum, many of the attendees were complaining of a streaming nose, a cough, and a nasty headache. The “Davos apocalyptic cold” was how one sufferer described it darkly. Read more

Uber screengrab

You cannot book an Uber car in Davos. That is no surprise, given that most World Economic Forum delegates prefer to take their own chauffeured limousines or the WEF’s free shuttle service. More surprising is the absence of Uber the company. I have heard it cited constantly this week – both in formal sessions and in informal conversations between participants – as an example of disruptive innovation. Uber also seems to have fielded a representative for every conference I’ve attended over the past past year. Not this one.

 

 

 

 

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I moderated a fascinating debate on corporate governance on Saturday on the following question: Has shareholder value maximisation failed as a source of long-term wealth creation and social benefit? Before starting the debate, I asked for a vote on the question. At that stage 70 per cent voted “Yes” and 30 per cent voted “No”. So the overwhelming majority voted that shareholder value maximisation had indeed failed. This was astonishing, I thought, given the nature of the participants in Davos.

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(c) WEF

Holding the World Economic Forum in a ski resort in the Alps sounds like an eccentric decision. In fact, the choice of Davos as a location for the WEF is very clever. It is such a pain to get here that once the delegates are in Davos, they feel compelled to stay. If the WEF took place in a big city, there would be a lot more flitting in-and-out. Read more

If you want to get a sense of where power is shifting in the business world, tracking the Davos parties is a good place to start. A decade
ago it was the banking bashes which were the glitziest and coolest gigs in town. On Friday night, however, the hottest ticket in Davos was a midnight party organised by SalesforceRead more

Regulation is needed in the global art market because it is vulnerable to money laundering, tax evasion, trading on inside information and price manipulation, an FT Weekend lunch in Davos was told. Read more

The proposals by David Cameron, the UK prime minister, to criminalise forms of encryption that would block intelligence services from reading messages from terrorist suspects have been criticised in Davos by a group of Harvard professors. Read more

There is no doubt what the big issue is at the World Economic Forum on Thursday – the European Central Bank decision on quantitative easing.

An early panel with a largely-US cast list was supposed to discuss the likely rise in US interest rates this year from zero. The panel was titled “ending the experiment”. But the experiment of trying to get people to talk about anything other than Europe lasted, according to my calculations, about 10 minutes. The rest of the hour was devoted to Europe and whether QE would work. Read more

Here’s one prediction if Alexis Tsipras and his radical left Syriza party win Sunday’s Greek parliamentary elections: 595 women with mops and rubber gloves are going to be very happy.

They are cleaners whom the outgoing government, led by Antonis Samaras of the centre-right New Democracy party, fired from their jobs at Greece’s finance ministry as part of its effort to cut public expenditure and root out clientelism.

The cleaners’ dismissal caused a right old uproar in Athens. Mr Tsipras, terming their treatment typical of callous measures adopted to please Greece’s EU and International Monetary Fund creditors, has promised to reinstate them.

Everyone I’ve met this week in the Athens political world is sure he will do exactly what he says. Long live the revolution! Read more

Greece’s parliamentary elections on Sunday are set to put in power the nation’s most leftwing government, led by the radical Syriza party, and its youngest prime minister, 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, since the second world war.

But some familiar names and faces will survive Syriza’s expected victory. Despite six years of economic slump, and despite the reappearance of serious concerns about Greece’s ability to stay in the eurozone, the old Greek political order is not about to be swept away in its entirety. Read more

Hungary’s Viktor Orban has long been criticised for his war against the country’s troubled banks – since 2010, he has imposed Europe’s highest bank tax, introduced financial transaction levies and has forced banks to pay out billions of euros in compensation to borrowers for mispriced foreign currency loans.

But as the SNB decision to scrap the ceiling on the Swiss franc on Thursday sent the forint sliding a record low against the franc on currency markets, Mr Orban’s policies came in for some rare praise. Read more

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands in front of 16 soldiers in historic garb at the presidential palace in Ankara (Getty)

The average foreign dignitary visiting Ankara might not expect to encounter an honour guard of 16 men resembling extras from a sword and sandals epic and lining the staircase of a gargantuan presidential palace.

So when Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was confonted this week by the spectacle of the 16 soldiers in historic Turkic garb, even some Turkish officials confessed they initially thought the resulting images were the work of photoshop.

It was one of the more surreal sights to emerge from Turkey in recent times and has led to much hilarity on social media. But there was a point and purpose to the unusual costumes and their appearance may contain clues to Turkey’s direction of travel under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Abbas’s host and the country’s paramount leader. Read more

France has been through a traumatic period following a spate of terror attacks that killed 17 people, which led to a wave of demonstrations by millions of defiant citizens in response. In the latest edition of the FT World Weekly podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, a former Paris bureau chief, and Michael Stothard, one of the FT correspondents who covered the aftermath of the attacks, to assess the wider impact of the events and discuss whether France can ward off the forces of polarisation.

The biggest risk to the world over the next decade is that of international conflict, says the World Economic Forum’s 10th edition of its global risks report, which is published today in the run-up to the shindig of global policy-makers and business people in Davos next week.

“Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world again faces the risk of major conflict between states,” said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, WEF lead economist. “Today the means to wage such conflict, whether through cyberattack, competition for resources or sanctions and other economic tools, is broader than ever.” Read more

A top adviser at the European Court of Justice has said that the European Central Bank’s crisis-fighting Outright Monetary Transactions programme falls within policy makers’ mandate.

Q: That’s pretty much a green light for quantitative easing next week isn’t it?

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Most euro area governments and investors are breathing a sigh of relief after Wednesday’s preliminary judgment from the EU’s highest court in favour of the European Central Bank’s sovereign bond-buying programme – the 2012 initiative that helped to bring the euro crisis under control.

But governments and investors, in and outside Europe, should keep in mind that the danger of a bitter, protracted struggle over EU constitutional law will now go up. This would pit Germany against other power centres in the EU. Read more

Within twenty years of the end of the second world war, the same European countries that had been sworn enemies during six years of bloody conflict committed themselves to a future of peace, prosperity and political and economic integration.

Some war crimes suspects slipped the net and avoided the Nuremberg trials, but their elusiveness did not interrupt or discredit the reconciliation process led by West Germany and France.

But two decades on from the wars that ripped apart the former Yugoslavia, it is impossible to make the case that reconciliation and integration are as advanced there as they were in western Europe by the mid-1960s.

The region’s societies, ethnicities and political leaderships remain bitterly at odds over how to assess the war crimes committed in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1991 and 1995.

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The halving of oil prices over the past six months has caught pretty much every economist by surprise and prompted a rush to explain the reasons behind this astounding drop and the consequences for the global economy.

On Wednesday, the World Bank has weighed in with a study included in one of the analytical chapters of its twice-yearly Global Economic Prospects. The Bank has good reasons to study the oil price drop: the sliding cost of crude will have profound implications for growth rates, inflation outlooks and the public finances of emerging markets, whether they are oil-producers or oil-importers. Read more

By Rachel Sanderson in Milan

In his ninth end of year address to Italians and the last before he retires this year, Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano pulled no punches.

His voice hoarse and visibly tired, in a televised speech on Wednesday night, Mr Napolitano attacked the prevalence of organised crime in Italy describing it as a “subsoil of rot” running through Italian social and political life. Read more