In his youth, Philipp Wilhelm was at the forefront of protests against the World Economic Forum’s annual “extreme capitalism” gathering of the business and political elite in Davos, the Swiss mountain resort where he grew up.
Now, however, Wilhelm is the mayor of the town and his central mission is to ensure the return of the WEF jamboree, which had been scheduled to start next week but was cancelled this year due to the pandemic.
“It’s a very big deal that the WEF is not coming to Davos this year,” Wilhelm, 32, said in a video interview from his office in the town hall.
“A lot of companies, and a lot of people, rely on revenue from the WEF and it’s a very difficult time for them with the pandemic and without the WEF meeting. Some of the businesses are really dependent on the WEF week, when a few of them may make about 40% of their annual income.”
Every January since 1971 – with the exception of 2002, when the WEF meeting relocated to New York in a show of solidarity in the wake of the 9/11 terror attack – thousands of the world’s richest and most influential people, their aides, security guards and the media have descended on the snowy slopes of Davos for the WEF meeting.
While businesses, hoteliers and apartment landlords relish the opportunity to jack up their prices 10-fold or more, many of the town’s residents complain about endless traffic jams, pollution, intense security checks and the corrupting influence of the global super-rich on the morality of young people.
Every year, Davos residents are joined by protesters from across Switzerland and the rest of Europe demanding an end to the meeting – or that it at least attempts to better represent all of society and acknowledges global challenges such as the climate crisis.
In the early 2010s, in the wake of the financial crisis, Wilhelm joined the protests over several years. “In my early days I was demonstrating during the WEF for better action against climate change and social justice. Now I am trying to get the WEF back to Davos,” he said with a laugh.
Wilhelm, who in November became the first member of the leftwing Social Democratic party (SP) to be elected mayor of Davos, said it was his experiences at the protests that led him to stand for office. “Actually, I got into politics thanks to the WEF, because I started to think about how the economy works, how politics work,” he said. “It was my entrance point.”
Since then, Wilhelm says both he and the WEF have changed their positions, and he said he can do much more to influence policy from inside the steel ring of security that surrounds the Davos congress centre.
But he also warned Davos businesses that are missing the money they would have collected during the WEF – which will this year meet in a pared-down event in Singapore in May – that they had allowed themselves to become too reliant on the WEF money train. The WEF, he…
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